The Heaven Sword and the Dragon Sabre – Chapter 26

Willingly disfigure a handsome face.

Approaching the afternoon that day, three riders and one carriage were seen galloping toward the north and in less than a day they had entered Dadou [lit. grand capital], the Yuan Dynasty’s capital. By this time the power of Mongolian cavalry had reached a hundred thousands ‘li’s [1 li is approximately 0.5 km], making their borders vast and wide, matchless throughout the history. Dadou later on became Beijing. It is the city where the emperor resided, where countless smaller nations and tribes sent their envoys to pay tribute.

As Zhang Wuji and his company entered the city gate they saw that a lot of people were coming and going; many of those people had yellow hair and blue eyes. Four people went to the western side of the city to find an inn for them to spend the night. Acting as a rich merchant Yang Xiao asked for three of the best rooms. The inn attendant rushed back and forth to serve them. Yang Xiao asked him about the historical sites and scenic spots around the Dadou; after a while he casually asked about ancient temples or monasteries. The inn attendant mentioned Wan An Temple of the western city first, “This Wan An Temple is situated among a thick forest; it has three big copper Buddha idols. No matter where you are going in this world, you won’t find the fourth one. You should have come to visit this temple. It’s a pity you have come in an unfortunate time. For the past half a year the temple has been occupied by foreign western monks; common people do not dare to come anymore.”

“Occupied by foreign monks, that shouldn’t be a problem, should it?” Yang Xiao asked.

The attendant stuck his tongue, he looked left and right before lowering his voice and said, “It’s not that I talk too much, but honorable guests have come to the capital, you must be careful when talking. If they see people coming in, those foreign monks will beat or even kill as they please; if they see pretty women then they will grab and take them inside the temple. They are backed by the Emperor. Who dare to swat a fly on a tiger’s head by coming to those foreign monks and confront them?”

The foreign monks were backed by the Mongolian power, plundering and rampaging, oppressing the Han people, Yang Xiao and the others had long been aware of it; but they did not expect these people would unscrupulously run amuck in the capital. Thereupon they did not talk with the inn attendant any longer.

After dinner that night they stayed in their respective rooms to cultivate their energy. Around the second hour [between 1 and 3 am] three people leaped from the window, heading west.

The Wan An temple was a big four-story building, with a thirteen floor pagoda behind it, which they could see in the distant. Zhang Wuji, Yang Xiao and Wei Yixiao launched their ‘qing gong’ [lightness kungfu] to the fullest and in a short time they had arrived at the temple. Exchanging hand signals they circled to the left, with the intention of climbing up the pagoda to take a better look of the overall temple’s situation from a higher position. Unexpectedly when they were still about twenty ‘zhang’s [1 zhang is approximately 10 ft or 3.3 m] away from the pagoda they saw shadows of people on each floor of the pagoda, going back and forth, patrolling. It turned out that there were twenty, thirty people guarding the pagoda. As they saw this, three people were both startled and delighted at the same time, because if the pagoda was guarded this heavily, then Shaolin, Wudang, and other sects’ people must be imprisoned here; hence saving them time to investigate further. Only the enemy’s guard was so heavy, their rescue effort would certainly not be easy. Much less since each one of Kong Wen, Kong Zhi, Song Yuanqiao, Yu Lianzhou, Zhang Songxi, and the others had an outstanding level or martial art skill; yet they were still captured by the enemy, showing that the enemy was not only numerous, but their methods were undoubtedly fierce and cruel. Before coming to this Wan An Temple, three people had decided not to be rash and act recklessly; therefore, they quietly retreated.

Suddenly they saw a flicker of light on the sixth floor; about eight, nine people walked slowly with torches in their hands. The light moved from the sixth floor to the fifth, then from the fifth to the fourth, going down the pagoda. As they arrived at the first floor they went out the pagoda’s main entrance, moving towards the back of the temple.

Yang Xiao waved his hand and slowly crept toward these people. On the rear courtyard of the temple there were old trees towering to the sky. Three people hid behind one of the trees; and as soon as the wind blew they moved several ‘zhang’s away to the next tree. These three people’s ‘qing gong’ was very high, yet they only dare to move with the blowing wind and rustling leaves in fear of their movement to be detected by enemy.

Stepping stealthily they managed to move more than twenty ‘zhang’s. They saw around ten men wearing yellow robes, each with a weapon in his hand, escorting an old man wearing an oversized robe with wide sleeve. As that old man turned his head, Zhang Wuji could see clearly that the old man was the Kunlun Sect’s Sect Leader, ‘tie qin xian sheng’ [Mister Iron Qin (a musical instrument)], He Taichong; Wuji could not help but shiver, “Even Mr. He is also here,” he thought.

As they saw those people enter Wan An Temple’s back door, three people waited for a moment. After looking around to make sure nobody else was watching, they also entered the back door quick as a flash. The temple was huge, with many rooms inside; some of the rooms looked similar to those in the Shaolin Temple. They saw bright light coming out through long windows of the main hall; and guessed this must be the room where He Taichong was detained. Three people moved swiftly toward this hall. Zhang Wuji crouched on the ground trying to take a peek inside the hall via a small crack on the long window. Yang Xiao and Wei Yixiao stood on either side, guarding against any possible sneak attack. Although these three people were bold and highly skilled, they were entering a tiger’s den at this moment, so their hearts were anxious.

The crack on the long window was very small so Zhang Wuji only managed to see the lower part of He Taichong’s body; he could not see any other people inside the hall. He heard He Taichong roar angrily, “I have already fallen into your treacherous hand; just kill me or cut me off, but don’t say another word. If you want me to take an oath to be the government’s hunting falcon or dog, then dream on. Even if you talk for three or five more years, you are only wasting your words.”

Zhang Wuji silently nodded his head, “Although this Mr. He is not an honorable gentleman, he stands firm in critical moment; he truly befits the character of a sect leader,” he thought.

He heard a man in a cold voice say, “You are so stubborn, our Master won’t force you. But do you know the custom here?”

“Even if you cut all my ten fingers I still won’t surrender,” He Taichong said.

“Very well,” that man said, “Let me explain it to you once again. If you can defeat three of our people, we’ll immediately release you. If you lose, we’ll cut one more of your fingers and lock you up another month. Then we’ll ask you again whether you want to surrender.”

He Taichong replied, “I’ve already lost two fingers, so what if I lose another one? Come, take your sword out!”

That man laughed coldly, “By the time you lose all your fingers, although you surrender, we won’t want a trash. Give him a sword! Mokopas, you can try him first!”

Another hoarse voice replied, “Yes!”

Zhang Wuji sent his strength to the point of his finger and gently pushed the crack to make it wider. He saw that He Taichong was holding a wooden sword; its body was wrapped in cloth. It was a soft and blunt sword; could not possibly injure anybody. Standing in front of him was a burly foreign monk. In his hand was a steel blade, flickering its bluish ray under the light. One weapon was sharp, the other blunt. It was clearly no competition; it was so easy to see who was strong and who was weak. But He Taichong was not discouraged; he shook the wooden sword in his hand and said, “Please!”

‘Swish!’ his sword hacked down swiftly and fiercely, sending out a secret move from the Kunlun Sword technique. That foreign monk, Mokopas, was big and tall, but his movement was very agile; his blade flashed back and forth, aiming He Taichong’s vital points.

Zhang Wuji only need to watch several moves before he was shocked, “How come Mr. He’s footwork is unstable, utterly discomfited, as if he doesn’t have any internal energy at all?” he thought.

He Taichong’s sword technique was exquisite, but without internal energy, he did not differ much from an average person; the swiftness and fierceness of his sword could not be unleashed to the fullest. Fortunately that foreign monk’s martial art skill was two levels beneath his, so although the monk launched several fierce attacks, He Taichong always managed to counterattack thanks to his wonderful moves.

After about fifty moves He Taichong shouted, “Gotcha!” His sword slashed to the east and turned back to the west, slanted to the rear and then back to the front, with a light ‘bang!’ the sword hit the monk’s armpit. If it was a real sword, also if his internal strength was not gone, then the sword would have already penetrated the monk’s flesh and bone.

“Back off, Mokopas!” that cold voice said, “Unwol, your turn!”

Zhang Wuji turned his attention to the owner of that cold voice. He saw a dark face, as if this person’s face was covered with a layer of black smoke, with graying grizzled beard; he was one of the Xuanming Two Elders. He stood with his hands behind his back, his eyes were partly open, as if he was indifferent to whatever was happening in front of him.

Moving his eyes forward Zhang Wuji saw a short stool covered with brocade, on which rested a pair of feet, wearing a pair of yellow satin shoes, with a pearl on the tip of each shoe. Zhang Wuji’s heart was beating faster, because he recognized these delicately beautiful feet with round anklebones; this pair of feet belonged to Zhao Min, which he had grabbed in his hands in the Green Willow Manor. When they met at Mount Wudang, they faced each other as enemies. This time he saw this pair of delicate feet resting on a brocade stool, somehow his face turned red and his heart was beating fast. He saw Zhao Min’s right foot tap the stool lightly, as if she was deeply engrossed in the martial art contest between He Taichong and Unwol.

After about the time needed to drink tea has passed, He Taichong shouted, “Gotcha!” Zhao Min raised her right foot as Unwol was defeated.

That black-faced Xuan Ming Elder said, “Unwol, back off. Helin Pohu, your turn.”

Zhang Wuji heard that He Taichong’s breathing was getting heavier; he knew that Mr. He must be extremely exhausted after he successively battled two people. A short moment later the fight began. Helin Pohu was using a long and big, heavy steel staff as his weapon. The gust of wind from his weapon filled the hall and the candles flickered, creating a dancing shadow like a cloud on Zhao Min’s shoes. Suddenly a black shadow swept across the floor, a red candle on top of a small table on the right side of the hall was extinguished. ‘Crack!’ the wooden sword snapped. He Taichong heaved a long sigh and threw the sword on the floor. At last he lost the match after staking everything he got.

“Mister Iron Qin, do you surrender?” the Xuanming Elder asked.

He Taichong boldly replied, “I said I won’t surrender. If I have my internal energy, how can this foreign monk be my match?”

The Xuanming Elder coldly said, “Cut his left ring finger; take him back to the pagoda.”

Zhang Wuji turned his head toward Yang Xiao, and Yang Xiao shook his hand; his meaning was obvious: ‘If we break into the hall to save people, then our own important matter will fail.’ They heard the finger got cut, medicine applied to stop the bleeding, and the wound wrapped. He Taichong was really unyielding; he did not even utter a single grunt. The group of yellow robed men took the torch and took him back to the pagoda.

Zhang Wuji and the others shrunk back to hide behind the corner wall. Under the torch light they saw He Taichong’s face was white as a sheet, his jaws were clenched, he looked really angry.

After the group walked far, a gentle and charming clear voice was heard in the hall, “Mr. Lu Zhang [lit. deer staff], Kunlun Sect’s sword technique is really profound. In the stance with which he stabbed Mokopas, first he slashed to the left like this, and then turned to the right like this …”

Zhang Wuji put his eyes back on the crack and saw that it was indeed Zhao Min. She was talking and walking toward the center of the hall, with a wooden sword in her hand, imitating He Taichong’s movement earlier. The foreign monk Mokopas brandished his blade to block her sword.

That black-faced Xuanming Elder, which Zhao Min called ‘Mr. Lu Zhang’, short for ‘Lu Zhangke’, praised her, “Master’s intelligence is matchless. This stance was absolutely correct.”

Zhao Min practiced again and again, every time she hit Mokopas’ armpit. The sword was a wooden one, but each stab hit the same spot over and over again, causing quite a bit of pain. Mokopas turned all his attention to spar with her; he did not dare to complain or try to evade her stabs. She practiced this move until she mastered it, and then called Unwol and practiced the stance He Taichong used to defeat him earlier.

Zhang Wuji understood; it turned out Zhao Min imprisoned the experts from various sects here and drugged them to suppress their internal energy and force them to surrender to the royal government. Naturally these people would not surrender; so she ordered her people to fight with them, while she observed from the side. That way she could steal various sects’ exquisite moves. Her intention was really evil; her scheme wicked, making other people’s blood boil.

While she was sparring with Helin Pohu, toward the very last several stances Zhao Min hesitated and asked, “Mr. Lu Zhang, is it like this?”

Lu Zhangke hesitated without answering; he turned his head and asked, “He Xiongdi [lit. Brother Crane], did you see it clearly?”

From the left corner a voice replied, “Ku Dashi [lit. grand master ‘bitter/painful’ – Reverend Ku] must have seen it clearly.”

Zhao Min smiled and said, “Ku Dashi, I will have to bother you; please come here and give me directions.”

From the right corner came a ‘tou tuo’ [Buddhist monk with hair]; his hair was so long that it draped over his shoulder like a cape. His stature was big and tall, his face was full of scars so that it was difficult to tell what his original face would look like. His hair and palm looked red, like he was a middle-eastern man. Without saying anything he took the sword from Zhao Min’s hand and ‘swish, swish, swish, swish’ he repeatedly swung it toward Helin Pohu, using Kunlun Sect’s sword technique.

This so-called ‘Ku Dashi’, the Ku Toutuo, was using He Taichong’s sword technique, also without internal energy; while Helin Pohu fought him with all his might. Toward the end his staff swept away with a strong gust of wind, extinguishing the red candle on the right hand side of the hall. He Taichong was not able to evade this move and thus was forced to parry the steel staff with his wooden sword; as a result his sword broke and he was defeated. But that Ku Toutuo’s wooden sword turned around sharply; light as a feather it slid along the staff, like a swallow sweeping the water, following the staff’s movement it slid upward to slice Helin Pohu’s fingers which held the staff. Helin Pohu felt his palm went numb; he could not hold on to his staff. ‘Clang!’ it fell to the ground hitting the green brick tile making brick dust flew up.

Helin Pohu’s face turned red; he knew that if the wooden sword was a real sharp one, his eight fingers would have been cut off. Bowing down he said, “My respect! I admit defeat,” Then he stooped down to pick up his steel staff. Ku Toutuo held the wooden sword with both hands and gave it back to Zhao Min.

Zhao Min said with a smile, “Ku Dashi, that last move was really wonderful; was it also from the Kunlun Sect’s sword technique?”

Ku Toutuo shook his head. Zhao Min continued, “No wonder He Taichong could not do it. Ku Dashi, can you teach me?”

Using his bare hand Ku Toutuo attacked Zhao Min’s sword. Sparring for the third time Ku Toutuo’s hand moved lightning fast; his speed was unimaginable. Zhao Min could not match his speed; but although her sword was slower, her movement was similar to his, without the slightest amount of discrepancy. Ku Toutuo turned his body around, shot both of his hands out then stopped dead on his track.

“Good!” Zhang Wuji applauded silently, “That was brilliant!”

For a moment Zhao Min did not understand, leaning her head sideways she stared at Ku Toutuo’s position. After thinking for a while she finally understood. “Ah, Ku Dashi, if you were holding a weapon, then the staff would break my arm,” she said, “How do you counter it?”

Ku Toutuo made a movement of flipping his hand and grabbing the steel staff. His left foot flew up, his head raised up; he simultaneously snatched the enemy’s staff and kicked. This movement looked clumsy, but actually it was a very skillful movement of martial art from outside the great wall.

Zhao Min smiled and said, “Good Shifu, quickly teach me.” Her expression was tender and flattering.

Zhang Wuji’s heart skipped a beat. He thought, “Your internal energy is not enough, you can’t learn it. But the way she asked made it difficult for others to refuse.”

Ku Toutuo made two hand signals; his meaning was obvious, ‘You don’t have enough internal energy, you can’t learn this move.’ Then he turned around and ignored her.

Zhang Wuji pondered in his heart, “Ku Toutuo’s martial art is strong; I am afraid he is not below the Xuanming Elders. I don’t know his internal energy level, but his movements were exquisite. He is truly a formidable opponent. He keeps making hand signals, but did not speak a single word; could it be that he is mute? But he definitely is not deaf. Miss Zhao is very respectful to him; he is obviously a character with an extraordinary background.”

Seeing Ku Toutuo was not willing to teach her Zhao Min was not angry; she showed a faint smile and said, “Take Kongtong Sect’s Tang Wenliang here.”

Not too long afterwards Tang Wenliang was ushered into the hall. Again Lu Zhangke ordered three of his men to fight with him. Tang Wenliang was not willing to suffer defeat under a weapon, so with bare hands he fought against the enemy’s palms. He won the first two matches; but on the third match his opponent used internal energy. Tang Wenliang was not able to resist and he lost one of his fingers. Again Zhao Min practiced according to what she just saw while Lu Zhangke gave directions from the side.

It dawned on Zhang Wuji that Zhao Min realized her internal energy was insufficient and it was difficult to cultivate internal energy intensively; so she wanted to learn the martial arts of various sects’ sect leaders and experts. This method was not only more feasible, but by practicing the most exquisite of each skill she might be able to greatly make up of her own inadequacy.

After practicing the fist technique Zhao Min said, “Call the Old Nun Miejue!”

One of the yellow-robed men said, “The Old Nun Miejue has gone on a hunger strike for five days. She is still as stubborn as ever; not willing to take any order.”

“Starve her to death, then!” Zhao Min smiled, “Hey, call that Emei Sect’s young girl, Zhou Zhiruo.” Her subordinate complied; he turned around and went out the hall.

Zhang Wuji remembered Zhou Zhiruo had cared for him attentively on the boat in Han River; he felt that he owed her a debt of gratitude. On the Brightness Peak Zhou Zhiruo also helped him by giving him pointers on positions, so that he was able to defeat the Huashan Sect and Kunlun Sect’s Saber and Sword Combination Technique; later on she stabbed him with her sword, but it was because she was following her Shifu’s strict order, so he did not hold it against her. Now that he heard Zhao Min’s order to get her, his heart was shaken.

A short moment later the group of yellow-robed men came back, ushering Zhou Zhiruo into the hall. Zhang Wuji saw that she was as beautiful as he remembered her; only compared to at the Brightness Peak she was slightly thinner and paler. Although imprisoned by the enemy, she managed to maintain her composure as if she had already disregarded life and death.

As usual Lu Zhangke asked if she was willing to surrender or not. Zhou Zhiruo simply shook her head without saying anything. Lu Zhangke was about to send someone to fight with her when Zhao Min said, “Miss Zhou, you are very young, yet you are one of Emei Sect’s martial art experts; that is truly something to be envious of. I heard you are Reverend Mie Jue’s protégé and have mastered her profound swordsmanship, is that true?”

Zhou Zhiruo replied, “My Master’s martial art is so broad and deep; let’s just say that she [here the term used was ‘lao ren jia’ – Senior] has passed all her knowledge to me, I am [here the term used was ‘xiao nu zi’ – a little girl] young and my understanding is shallow, I fall far too short.”

Zhao Min smiled, “The rule is as long as you can defeat three of our people, then we’ll let you go, free and unharmed; we won’t trouble you anymore. Why is your honorable master so proud that she disdains to compare martial art with us?” she asked.

Zhou Zhiruo replied, “My Master prefers death over disgrace. She is the Sect Leader of Emei; how could she ask for mercy from your subordinate? What you said was not wrong; my Master certainly look down upon contemptible, evil woman and lowly people. Of course she disdains fighting with you.”

Surprisingly Zhao Min was not angry; she still smiled and asked, “How about you, Miss Zhou?”

“I am but a little girl, what do I have to say?” Zhou Zhiruo answered, “Whatever Shifu said, I follow.”

“Your honorable master also forbade you to fight with us, didn’t she?” Zhao Min asked, “Why is that?”

Zhou Zhiruo replied, “Although Emei Sect’s sword technique is not the greatest technique there is, it is still the Central Plains’ major sect’s martial art; certainly we cannot allow some shameless barbarian captors to steal it.” She spoke with a refined manner, but her words were sharp, in total disregard of other people’s feeling.

Zhao Min was startled; she did not expect Miejue Shitai to correctly guess her true intention. She heard Zhou Zhiruo first said ‘evil woman, lowly people’, then she said, ‘shameless barbarian’; she could not bear her anger. ‘Swish!’ the Yitian Sword appeared in her hand. “Your Shifu cursed us as shameless barbarians. Fine! Let me ask you this: this Yitian Sword is obviously my family’s treasure; how could the Emei steal it?”

Zhou Zhiruo indifferently said, “Yitian Sword and Tulong [slaying dragon] Saber have always been the Central Plain Wulin world’s precious weapons. I have never heard they have anything to do with a barbarian woman.”

Zhao Min’s face turned completely red; “Humph!” she angrily said, “I did not know your tongue is actually very sharp. So you are determined not to fight with us?” Zhou Zhiruo shook her head. Zhao Min said, “I always cut a finger of those other people who lost in the martial art match or simply refuse to fight. You, this little girl, must be very proud of your beautiful face; no wonder you are so arrogant. I am not going to cut your finger.” While saying that she pointed her finger toward Ku Toutuo and continued, “I am going to make you as this Reverend; I am going to add twenty, thirty sword marks on your face. I want to see if you are still arrogant.” She waved her left hand and immediately two of the yellow-robed men came forward to grab Zhou Zhiruo’s arms. Zhao Min smiled and said, “I want to turn your smart face into a honeycomb; and I don’t need Emei’s exquisite sword technique to do that. Do you think I can’t turn you into an ugly clown with my ‘three-legged cat’ skill?”

Tears started to well up Zhou Zhiruo’s eyes; her body started to tremble. She saw the tip of the Yitian Sword was only a few inches apart from her own cheeks. She knew as soon as this demon moved her hand, her face would look like that ugly and fearsome ‘toutuo’.

“Are you scared?” Zhao Min asked with a smile. Zhou Zhiruo did not dare to act strong anymore; she nodded her head. “Good!” Zhao Min said, “Do you surrender?”

“I won’t surrender!” Zhou Zhiruo said, “Just kill me!”

Zhao Min smiled and said, “I’ve never killed anybody; I only want to cut a little bit of your skin and flesh.” A cold ray flashed; the sword in Zhao Min’s hand slashed toward Zhou Zhiruo’s face.

‘Bang!’ suddenly something was thrown from outside, hitting the Yitian Sword. At the same time the long window broke and someone flew into the hall; throwing the two yellow-robed men who held Zhou Zhiruo’s arms outside. The person who broke the window and flew in turned his left arm around to protect Zhou Zhiruo, while at the same time stretched out his right arm to block Lu Zhangke’s palm. ‘Bang!’ both people staggered two steps backward.

Everybody turned their eyes toward this person; he was none other than the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult, Zhang Wuji. His entrance was so sudden like he descended from the sky; everybody was shocked. Even masters like the Xuanming Elders did not expect anything like this that they were caught off guard.

Lu Zhangke heard the window burst; immediately he rushed to the front of Zhao Min’s body to protect her. He used all his strength to strike Zhang Wuji; but to his surprise his legs wobbled and he staggered back two steps. He was about to attack in anger when suddenly he felt an unbearable dry heat on his body, as if he was entering a hot furnace.

Zhou Zhiruo saw an impeding doom in front of her eyes, but unexpectedly someone suddenly came to her rescue. Finding herself in Zhang Wuji’s embrace, Zhou Zhiruo was conscious of his broad and solid chest and smelling a whiff of a strong male breath; she was pleasantly surprised. In an instant she felt her body weaken and she almost passed out. She did not know that Zhang Wuji had used the ‘jiu yang shen gong’ [nine yang (positive) divine energy] to block Lu Zhangke’s ‘xuan ming shen zhang’ [mysteriously dark/deep divine palm]; the pure ‘qi’ in his body came out. Zhou Zhiruo had never been this close to a male body before; moreover, this man was the one who was always in her mind day and night, even in her dreams. She felt an indescribable joy in her heart, so even though all around her the enemies threatened to cut her with a thousand blades and ten thousands swords she had nothing to worry, she had nothing to fear.
As soon as they saw their Cult Leader break in to rescue someone, Yang Xiao and Wei Yixiao followed quick as a flash and stood behind him on either side. At first the martial art experts under Zhao Min’s command were thrown into confusion; but very soon they saw that only three enemies broke into the hall. The guards outside and inside the hall exchanged some whistles, confirming that there was no other enemy outside. Immediately they moved to guard all doors, waiting quietly for Zhao Min’s order.

Zhao Min was neither alarmed nor afraid, she was not even angry; she only looked at Zhang Wuji with a startled look on her face. She turned her gaze toward the two pieces of bright golden objects on the corner of the hall. When she swung the Yitian Sword toward Zhou Zhiruo’s face Zhang Wuji threw something to block the sword. Turned out that object was the golden case she gave him as a souvenir. The Yitian Sword was very sharp that it cut the golden case into two halves on contact. She stared at those two golden pieces for a long time before saying, “Do you hate this box so much that you want to break it?”

Zhang Wuji noticed her gaze was full of quiet resentment; not anger, but more sorrow because of desires being cut short. He was startled; apologetically and in a soft voice he said, “I did not bring any secret projectile; in a hurry I reached into my pocket and took this box out. It was really unintentional. I hope Miss do not mind it.”

Zhao Min’s eyes shone, “Do you always carry this box with you?” she asked.

“Yes,” Zhang Wuji replied. Suddenly he realized Zhao Min’s beautiful eyes were staring at him; while his left arm was still hugging Zhou Zhiruo. He blushed slightly then loosened up his arm.

Zhao Min sighed and said, “I didn’t know Miss Zhou is your … your good friend; otherwise I wouldn’t treat her this way. Turned out you two are …” She did not finish her words and turned her head away.

Zhang Wuji said, “Miss Zhou and I … we are not … it’s only … it’s only …” He said ‘it’s only’ twice, but actually he did not know what to say.

Zhao Min turned her gaze back toward those two halves of the golden box on the floor; she did not say anything, but her eyes actually spoke a thousand words. Zhou Zhiruo’s heart was stirred, “This female demon is very passionate toward him; could it be …”

But Zhang Wuji actually did not share these two girls’ sentiment; he only partially understood Zhao Min’s dazed expression, but did not realize the profound meaning behind it. He thought Zhao Min gave him the pearl head ornament and the golden case with which he cured Yu Daiyan and Yin Liting, yet now he had broken the golden case; he felt he was being inappreciative toward others. Thereupon he walked to the corner of the hall, bent down to pick the two halves of the golden case and said, “I will find a skilled craftsman to have it fixed.”

“Really?” Zhao Min happily asked.

Zhang Wuji nodded; but in his heart he thought, ‘You and I both command countless warriors, how can we be worried about such an insignificant silver and gold matter? Although this golden case is exquisite, it is not a rare treasure. The ‘hei yu duan xu gao’ [black jade break connecting (or fracture healing) paste] hidden inside the box has already taken out, then the box does not have much usefulness anymore; so what if it is broken? Putting them back together is also a minor matter; presently we have many important matters to deal, but you actually worry about this box; you are such a fussy little girl, who cares much about such a trivial matter. Such a typical woman.’ Immediately he put the golden box pieces into his pocket.

“Then off you go!” Zhao Min said.

Zhang Wuji thought Song Da Shibo [First Martial (older) Uncle] and the others had not been rescued yet; how could he leave just like that? But the enemy’s experts surrounded them like a cloud, while there only three people on his side; so speaking about rescue was easier said than done. “Miss Zhao,” he asked, “Why did you capture my Da Shibo and the others?”

Zhao Min smiled, “My intention is good; I want to advise them to be loyal to the royal government, then everybody will enjoy splendor, riches and honor together. Who would have thought that they are so stubborn and don’t want to listen. I have no choice but to slowly persuade them.”

“Humph,” Zhang Wuji snorted; turning around he returned to Zhou Zhiruo’s side. With the enemy all around him he walked toward the box, picked it up and returned to his original position, all with calm and composed manners, as if there were nobody else there. He swept his cold gaze around and said, “Since that is the case, we’ll take our leave then!” Taking Zhou Zhiruo’s hand he turned around to leave.

Zhao Min hastily said, “You want to leave then just leave. But if you want to take Miss Zhou along without asking my permission; what kind of person do you think I am?”

“It is really inappropriate for me to do that,” Zhang Wuji said, “Miss Zhao, will you release Miss Zhou and let her go with me?”

Zhao Min did not answer; she cast a meaningful glance toward the Xuanming Elders. He Biweng [lit. old man crane pen] moved forward one step. “Zhang Jiaozhu,” he said, “You come and go as you like, you want to rescue others as you like; where do you think we should place our old faces? If you don’t demonstrate some special skills, I am afraid we brothers will have difficulty submitting to you.”

Zhang Wuji recognized He Biweng’s voice; anger welled up his chest. He roared, “You captured me when I was small and made my life nearly gone. Today you still have a face to speak to me? Take this!” With a loud grunt he sent out a palm toward He Biweng.

Lu Zhangke had just suffered a defeat; he knew He Biweng’s strength was not Zhang Wuji’s match. Rushing forward he shot a palm toward him. Zhang Wuji’s right palm was still moving toward He Biweng, his left palm moved underneath his right arm to block Lu Zhangke’s palm. Pure internal energy met pure internal energy, there was not the slightest margin of error. Three people, four palms. As soon as they met, they all staggered back.

When they were at the Wudang Mountain the Xuanming Elders had exchanged palm strikes with Zhang Wuji and managed to land a couple of slaps on his body. This moment they wanted to repeat the same trick, also with two palms striking together. But that day Zhang Wuji had suffered defeat once; how could he let himself fall into the same trick? His elbows shrunk slightly launching the ‘qian kun da nuo yi’ technique; ‘Clap!’ He Biweng’s left fist landed above Lu Zhangke’s right palm. These two men’s received the same instructions from their master; their palm techniques were similar, their strengths were also more or less the same. They both felt their arms go numb and were confused as how could they, martial brothers, strike each other? Although their martial art skills were high, they did not understand this profound mystery.

While those two men were startled and angry, Zhang Wuji’s palms had arrived. Each of the Xuanming Elders launched their palms; one to counterattack, the other to block. They used a totally different move from the previous one, but Zhang Wuji still used the same technique to lead Lu Zhangke’s left palm to strike above He Biweng’s right palm. Zhang Wuji executed the ‘qian kun da nuo yi’ technique skillfully and with great precision that his attack arrived at an unthinkable condition.

While the Xuanming Elders were still stunned Zhang Wuji’s third palm strike arrived; as if by prior agreement each of them lifted a palm to block. Three people’s pure energy collided; the Xuanming Elders felt their opponent’s ‘yang’ [positive] energy surge in, it was difficult to block. Zhang Wuji’s palm technique was like the wind; he recalled his many years of sufferings when he was little and was struck by He Biweng’s Xuanming Divine Palm. For that reason his palm strike was a little bit lenient toward Lu Zhangke, he did not give any leeway to He Biweng.

Twenty or so palms later He Biweng’s greenish face had turned completely red. Seeing the opponent’s palm strike, he raised his left palm trying to fend it off, while his right palm is slanting down heavily. ‘Slap! Slap!’ He Biweng’s palm fiercely hit Lu Zhangke’s shoulder. In the end he still failed to fend off Zhang Wuji’s palm, which hit him squarely on his chest. Luckily Zhang Wuji had never had any intention to take his life; thus he only used 30% of his strength. With a ‘wah’ noise He Biweng spurted a mouthful of blood. His face from red turned to purple, his body swayed; if Zhang Wuji took advantage of this situation and launched another palm strike, his life would be gone right there and then. Lu Zhangke’s shoulder was also so painful that his face greatly changed and his lips bleed from his own biting.

The Xuanming Elders had always been Zhao Min’s most capable subordinates; who would have thought that both of them were injured in under thirty moves? No wonder the rest of Zhao Min’s warriors were flabbergasted; even Yang Xiao and Wei Yixiao were astonished. They had seen it with their own eyes how on Wudang Mountain the Xuanming Elders had injured Zhang Wuji with their palms; surprisingly in just several months he had made a tremendous progress. But they also remembered that in these last several months while treating Yu Daiyan and Yi Liting’s injuries on Mount Wudang, Zhang Wuji had also consulted Zhang Sanfeng on the subtle and profoundly deep study of the martial arts; finally he was able to combine the ‘jiu yang shen gong’ [nine ‘yang’ (positive) divine skill], ‘qian kun da nuo yi’ [great shifting of the universe], plus Wudang’s ‘tai ji chuan jian’ [Taiji’s fist and sword], three martial arts into one. They were secretly praising Zhang Sanfeng’s divine knowledge, which could be called ‘shen bu ke ce’ [immeasurably deep], four characters.

As the two Xuanming Elders were defeated, they howled and took their weapons out. In Lu Zhangke’s hand there was a short stick with a forked head, resembling a pair of deer antlers. The body of the stick was dark; it was unclear what the stick was made of. He Biweng’s hands were grasping a pair of pens; the tip of the pens was sharp, shaped like a crane’s beak. The pens glistened with crystal-like rays. These two people had followed Zhao Min for quite a while, but even Zhao Min had never seen them using their weapons. As these three weapons were launched, one black shadow and two white lights were seen; surrounding Zhang Wuji in their midst.

Zhang Wuji did not bring any weapons with him; with only his bare hand and empty fist, his situation was quite disadvantageous. But he was not scared one bit. He determined to test his own martial art against these two powerful opponents; he wanted to see if he would be able to score victory barehanded.

The Xuanming Elders had always relied on their profound internal energy, the Xuanming Divine Palms was a lost art of the martial art world; yet as soon as they went into battle against Zhang Wuji’s palms, his ‘jiu yang shen gong’ was actually so unfathomable that in dozens of palms they were defeated.

When using their weapons, these two people oftentimes scored victory because of their strange moves. Their names actually came from their weapons, ‘lu jiao duan zhang’ [deer antler short stick] and ‘he zui shuang bi’ [crane beak pair of pens]. Each of their moves was swift, fierce and very ruthless; rarely seen in the world.

With total concentration Zhang Wuji launched attacks and put up defenses among the weapons, but momentarily he had not yet understood his opponents’ movements; so it would not be easy to score any victory. Luckily He Biweng was severely wounded and his movements were unavoidably sluggish.

In the meantime Zhao Min lightly clapped her hands three times and naked blades dazzled in the hall. Three men attacked Yang Xiao, four people attacked Wei Yixiao, and two pointed the tip of their weapons on Zhou Zhiruo’s back. Yang Xiao snatched a sword and brandished it lightning fast, stabbing a man attacking his back. Wei Yixiao used his ‘qing gong’ [lightness kungfu] as his weapon and slapped two people with his ‘xuan yin mian zhang’ [dark cloud cotton palm]. But in reality the enemies were too many, for every man down, two came out to take his place; while Zhang Wuji was engaged in a fierce battle against the Xuanming Elders and was not able to lend them a hand. It would not be too difficult for the three of them to escape, but certainly it was almost impossible if they wanted to take Zhou Zhiruo along.

While they were anxious, suddenly Zhao Min shouted, “Everybody hold your hands!” Her voice was not too loud, but her subordinates obeyed her and immediately leaped backward.

Yang Xiao tossed his sword to the ground. Wei Yixiao had just snatched a blade from an enemy’s hand; he turned it around and threw it back to its owner, while laughing a big laugh. Seeing someone was still holding a dagger on Zhou Zhiruo’s back; Zhang Wuji could not help but feeling anxious and it showed on his face.

With a sad voice Zhou Zhiruo said, “Zhang Gongzi [young master, a respectful term to address a young man], please leave. Xiao Nuzi [little/young girl] is deeply grateful of three gentlemen’s kind intention.”

Zhao Min smiled and said, “Zhang Gongzi, I feel sad to destroy such a beautiful face like this. Surely she is your beloved?”

Zhang Wuji blushed; he said, “Miss Zhou and I have known each other since we were little. When I was a child I was hit by this man’s …” he pointed to He Biweng, “… Xuanming Divine Palm. The cold poison entered my body and made me difficult to move. I was lucky this Miss Zhou helped me eating and drinking. I do not dare to forget her kindness.”

“So you were childhood friends,” Zhao Min said, “You are thinking of making her the Devil Cult’s Madame Cult Leader, aren’t you?”

Zhang Wuji blushed even deeper. “The barbarians have not yet been extinguished, how can I think of raising a family?” he said.

Zhao Min’s face darkened. “You surely want to destroy me very much, don’t you?” she asked.

Zhang Wuji shook his head. “Until now I still do not know Miss’ origin,” he said, “Although our paths have crossed several times, every time it was Miss who seeks out Zhang Wuji; it wasn’t the Old Zhang who looks for trouble with Miss. I will be deeply grateful if Miss is willing to let my martial uncles and the Wulin warriors from various sects go; I wouldn’t dare to seek enmity with Miss. Moreover, Miss still has to tell me three matters, which I will strive to carry them out, in no way will I refuse your command.”

Zhao Min could hear the sincerity in his voice, her face brightened like a fresh flower just blossomed. She smiled and said, “Hey, you haven’t forgotten that.” Turning her head toward Zhou Zhiruo she said to Zhang Wuji, “This Miss Zhou is not your beloved, she is neither your martial sister, nor your fiancé; so if I want to destroy her face, it has nothing to do with you …” She cast a sidelong glance; Lu Zhangke and He Biweng immediately raised their weapons in front of Zhou Zhiruo, while another man raised a sharp dagger toward her cheeks.

If Zhang Wuji wanted to save her, he would have to break the Xuanming Elders’ defense line; which was not easy. Zhao Min coldly said, “Zhang Gongzi, you’d better tell me the truth.”

All of a sudden Wei Yixiao held out his palms and spat some saliva on them. He rubbed his palms several times to the sole of his shoes, and laughed a big laugh. Nobody knew what kind of crafty trick he was about to perform; suddenly a green shadow flashed. Zhao Min felt her left and right cheeks were rubbed by a palm. She looked at Wei Yixiao and found him stood on his original position, but now in his hands were two daggers; it was not clear whom he snatched the daggers from. Zhao Min realized things were not good; she did not dare to rub her own cheeks, but took a handkerchief and wiped her face. She saw her handkerchief was black with some mud, and knew instantly that it was the dirt from Wei Yixiao’s shoes plus his saliva. This thought made her sick that she almost threw up.

Wei Yixiao said, “Miss Zhao, whether you want to destroy Miss Zhou’s face or not, it is up to you. You are cruel and merciless; I, the one with surname Wei, cannot stop you. Just know this: today you cut Miss Zhou’s face once, the one surnamed Wei will double it; I will cut your face twice. You cut her face twice, I will cut yours four times. You break one finger of hers, I will break two of yours.” Speaking to this point he struck the daggers in his hands to each other and continued, “What the one surnamed Wei wants to do, he can do it. ‘Qing Yi Fu Wang’ [The Green Winged Bat King] will do what he says. All my life I have never said an empty talk. You can guard against me for a year or a year and a half, but not for eight years, ten years. You can send your people to kill me, but I doubt they will be able to pursue me. I take my leave now!” When the word ‘now’ came out of his mouth, he had already disappeared.

‘Slap! Slap!’ two daggers flew and struck a pillar; followed by “Aiyo! Ah!” screams, two foreign monks in the hall slowly sat down. Somehow the swords in their hands were snatched by Wei Yixiao; while their acupoints were also sealed by him.

Wei Yixiao’s words were spoken lightly, but everybody knew it was not idle talk; they saw with their own eyes that Zhao Min white cheeks, which were red from rouge earlier, were smeared black by Wei Yixiao’s dirt. If he was holding knives in his hands, Zhao Min’s cheeks would have been destroyed. His movement to her and back was lightning fast; it was like a ghost or a demon’s movement; certainly no experts would be able to guard against him. Even Zhang Wuji felt ashamed of his own inferiority. In a long distance race Zhang Wuji would be able to win relying on his stronger internal energy, but moving in the courtyard or between the porch and the veranda nobody could match this person’s divine speed.

Zhang Wuji bowed and saluted. “Miss Zhao,” he said, “We have offended you today; we’ll take our leave now.” Taking Yang Xiao’s hand he turned around and went out the hall. He knew with Wei Yixiao’s threat Zhao Min would not dare to harm Zhou Zhiruo. Zhao Min looked at his back with mixed feelings: ashamed and angry; but she did not command her people to block their way.

Zhang Wuji and Yang Xiao returned to the inn; Wei Yixiao was already waiting for them there. Zhang Wuji laughed and said, “Wei Fuwang [Bat King Wei], today you have given them a demonstration of your prowess, letting them know not to easily provoke the Ming Cult.”

“It wasn’t difficult to scare a little girl,” Wei Yixiao said, “She can pretend to be fierce and wicked, but as she heard me wanting to destroy her face, I guarantee you she won’t be able to sleep for three whole days and three whole nights.”

Yang Xiao smiled and said, “She can’t sleep; that’s not good. It will make our effort to rescue people more difficult.”

“Yang Zuoshi [Left Emissary Yang],” said Zhang Wuji, “Speaking of rescuing people, do you have any ingenious plan?”

Yang Xiao hesitated. “We are only three people, plus our presence is already known; it is truly a thorny problem,” he said.

Zhang Wuji apologetically said, “When I saw Miss Zhou’s dire situation I could not bear not to help. In the end I messed up an important matter.”

“The way the turn of events went, nobody could bear not to help,” Yang Xiao said, “Single-handedly Jiaozhu [Cult Leader] defeated the Xuanming Elders and that can crush the enemy’s spirit big time; that was also very good. Moreover, now that they know we are here, they won’t dare to treat Song Daxia [great hero Song] and the others too rudely.”

Zhang Wuji remembered that his Song Dabo [first (older) uncle], Yu Erbo [second (older) uncle] and the others were still in the enemy’s hand; and then seeing how Zhao Min has treated He Taichong, Tang Wenliang and the others with disgrace, his heart burned with anxiety.

Three people discussed their course of action for half a day without reaching any conclusion; finally they went their separate rooms to rest.

Toward the dawn the following morning Zhang Wuji was still half dreaming when he heard a noise from the window; he woke up immediately and opened his eyes wide only to see the window slowly open. There was someone outside staring at him. He was startled. Lifting up the bed curtain he saw that person’s face was filled with scars, he looked fearsomely ugly; it was none other than Ku Toutuo. Zhang Wuji was even more shocked; he immediately jumped out of bed, but Ku Toutuo’s face was still at the window, staring blankly at him. It seemed like Ku Toutuo did not mean any harm to him. “Yang Zuoshi! Wei Fuwang!” Zhang Wuji called out.

Yang and Wei two people responded from the neighboring rooms. Zhang Wuji was slightly relieved. In the meantime Ku Toutuo’s face disappeared from the window. Zhang Wuji hastily jumped out the window and saw Ku Toutuo go out the front gate in a hurry. By this time Yang and Wei two people had also caught up. Looking around to see there was no other enemy, three people moved their feet to pursue Ku Toutuo.

Ku Toutuo was waiting on a street corner. As he saw the three people approach, he turned around and went to the north. His strides were big, but he was not running. Three people exchanged hand signals and followed behind. By that time it was daybreak, not too many people were outside; so in a short moment they had reached the northern gate. Ku Toutuo continued leading the way along a small pathway. About seven, eight ‘li’s [1 li is approximately 0.5km] later they arrived at a small mound with rocks scattered around it. At last Ku Toutuo stopped and turned around; he waved his hands toward Yang Xiao and Wei Yixiao, asking them to step back, following which he cupped his fists in respect toward Zhang Wuji.

Zhang Wuji returned the salute while thinking in his heart, “I wonder what is this Toutuo’s intention in leading us here? There is nobody else here, if we fight, with one against three, he would surely lost. Judging by this, he doesn’t seem to have an ill intention.”

Before Zhang Wuji made his mind up, Ku Toutuo had already made a ‘heh, heh’ noise, then he attacked with his hands in the form of claws: tiger claw on his left hand, dragon claw on his right hand; all ten fingers in the shape of hooks, ferociously attacked Zhang Wuji.

Zhang Wuji diverted the attack by a sweep of his left palm; he said, “Shangren [lit. upper/above person, a respectful term to address a Buddhist monk], what is your intention? Please make it clear; we can always fight later.”

Ku Toutuo did not pay him any attention, as if he did not hear anything. His left hand tiger claw changed into an eagle claw, his right hand dragon claw changed into a tiger claw; one attacked the opponent’s left shoulder, the other attacked the right abdomen. The attacks were very vicious.

“Do we really have to fight?” Zhang Wuji asked.

Ku Toutuo’s eagle claw turned into a lion palm, his tiger claw turned into a crane beak; one struck the other pecked, in an ever-changing style. In a short three stances he had already used six different styles.

Zhang Wuji did not dare to slack off; he immediately launched the ‘Taiji Chuan’ [taiji fist]. His body moved like the passing clouds or flowing water, fighting his opponent on that stone mound. He felt this Ku Toutuo’s movements were very complicated; sometimes they were wide open and easily predicted, but just they turn surreptitiously strange as swift, like the martial art from a demonical unorthodox sect, casting a profound heretical, almost evil, air around him, but all along Zhang Wuji only used Taiji Chuan to fight him.

After about seventy, eighty stances later Ku Toutuo suddenly grunted and shot his fist straight forward. Zhang Wuji used the ‘ru feng si bi’ [Apparent Closure] to seal his fist power, followed by the move ‘dan bian’ [Single Whip] his left palm slapped Ku Toutuo’s back; only he did not exert any internal energy, as soon as he touched his back, Zhang Wuji withdrew his palm.

Ku Toutuo knew Zhang Wuji was showing him mercy; he leaped backward and stared at Zhang Wuji for half a day. Suddenly he made a hand signal to Yang Xiao, indicating he wanted to borrow the long sword on Yang Xiao’s waist. Yang Xiao loosened up the sword belt and presented the sword, complete with the sheath, with both hands to Ku Toutuo.

Zhang Wuji felt strange, “How can Yang Zuoshi lend a weapon to the enemy?” he thought.

Ku Toutuo drew the sword and made a hand signal, telling Zhang Wuji to borrow Wei Yixiao’s sword. Zhang Wuji shook his head; he took the sword sheath from Ku Toutuo’s left hand, and with a ‘qing shou’ [invitation] stance he used the sheath as a sword. With his left hand he pinched the tip of the sheath and positioned the sheath horizontally in front of his chest.

Ku Toutuo swept the sword and stabbed diagonally down. Zhang Wuji had seen him teaching sword technique to Zhao Min, so he knew this man had a superb swordsmanship. At once he focused his attention to use the Taiji Sword he had learned for the past several months on Mount Wudang. He saw that the opponent’s sword moved sometimes fast sometimes slow, with the blade seemingly everywhere; but Zhang Wuji was always able to block or divert the attack. Ku Toutuo withdrew immediately and re-attacked with new stances; yet not a single one of them was able to penetrate Zhang Wuji’s defense.

Zhang Wuji silently praised him, “If I fought this man half a year ago, I certainly would not be his match in swordsmanship. Compared to that ‘ba bi shen jian’ [Eight-armed Divine Sword] Fang Dongbai this Ku Toutuo is a notch better.” He started to feel fondness toward him and decided not to score victory too conspicuously.

Ku Toutuo brandished his sword like a ‘luan pi feng’ [tornado]; the blade of his sword glistened under the sun as if ten thousands metal snakes scurried around the opponent. Zhang Wuji looked clearly and then abruptly turned the sword sheath around. ‘Shua!’ the sword entered its sheath perfectly while both of his hands shot out and lightly touched Ku Toutuo’s wrists. Smiling slightly Zhang Wuji leaped back. If he made any effort ever so slightly, he would have been able to seize the sword. This move to seize the sword was really dangerous; but it also demonstrated his excellent skill.

Before Zhang Wuji’s feet landed on the ground Ku Toutuo dropped the sword and with a grunt sent out his palm forward. Zhang Wuji heard the gust of wind and knew that this palm carried a lot of strength. It was truly not a small matter; obviously the opponent was testing his internal strength. He turned his right palm around and met the incoming palm head-on, while his left foot finally touched the ground.

In an instant Ku Toutuo’s force flowed out like a stream. Zhang Wuji used the power of the seventh level of ‘qian kun da nuo yi’ to gradually dissipate the incoming force. Suddenly he shouted loudly and pushed back; it was like the dam on a mountain lake suddenly burst and the water flooded out with an earth shattering force. Zhang Wuji was actually returning Ku Toutuo’s palm strength to its owner. It was the combination of ten opponent’s palm strength into one; the world had never seen such force. If Ku Toutuo was hit, his wrist bone, arm bone, shoulder bone, and his ribs would be broken; blood would spurt out and he would have turned into a heap of shapeless pulp as he died a miserable death.

At this moment a pair of palms stuck to each other. It was impossible for Ku Toutuo to escape. Suddenly Zhang Wuji’s left hand grabbed his chest and flung him up; Ku Toutuo’s big body flew up. With a loud ‘Bang!’ the rocks behind him flew all over the place. Zhang Wuji’s matchless palm strength had hit the rocks on that mound.

Yang Xiao and Wei Yixiao, who were watching from the side, both cried out in alarm. They knew Ku Toutuo and their cult leader were staking it all in that internal energy competition. They thought it would take at least the time needed to drink tea for the match to reach its conclusion; who would have thought that the moment of life and death had arrived in just a short time. These two had a lot in their mind to say, but it was too late for them to open their mouths. Now that Ku Toutuo had landed on the ground, safe and sound, their palms were wet with cold sweats.

As his feet touched the ground Ku Toutuo’s hands made a sign like a blazing flame in front of his chest; he bowed to pay his respect to Zhang Wuji and said, “Xiao Ren [lit. little/lowly person] is ‘guang ming you zhi’ [Right Emissary of the Brightness] Fan Yao; I pay my respect to Jiaozhu [Cult Leader]. I thank Jiaozhu for sparing my life. Xiao Ren also asks forgiveness for my offensive behavior.” He had never talked for more than ten years, so his intonation was rather unnatural.

Zhang Wuji was pleasantly surprised; not only this mute Ku Toutuo could talk, but he was also his own Cult’s Right Emissary of the Brightness. It was truly beyond what he expected. He Busily held out his hands to raise him up and said, “It turns out that you are our Cult’s Fan Youshi [Right Emissary Fan]. I am extremely happy. We are family, so you don’t have to be overly courteous.”

Actually when they arrived at the rock mound, Yang Xiao and Wei Yixiao had already guessed with 30% certainty; only Fan Yao’s appearance was greatly changed that they did not dare to say anything. When he displayed his martial art, they were 70, 80% sure; now that he mentioned his own name, they rushed forward held his hands tightly. Yang Xiao stared at his face for half a day with tears streaming down his face. “Fan Xiongdi [Brother Fan],” he said, “Gege [big brother] missed you very much.”

Fan Yao hugged Yang Xiao and said, “Da Ge [big brother], we should be thankful for ‘Ming Zun’s [Translator’s note: I don’t know how to translate this properly. I am guessing that Fan Yao was referring to the Ming Cult founder (or prophet).] blessing and protection, that we have such a highly capable Jiaozhu, and that we brothers can see each other again.”

“Xiongdi,” Yang Xiao said, “How did your appearance change like this?”

“If I didn’t deform my own face, how can I deceive that traitor, the ‘hun yuan pi li shou’ [Lightning Hands of the Originating Formation] Cheng Kun?” Fan Yao said.

As soon as they heard him, they realized that he intentionally destroyed his own face to get close to the enemy. Yang Xiao’s heart was moved. “Xiongdi,” he said, “You have suffered greatly.” In the past Yang Xiao and Fan Yao were known in Jianghu as the ‘Xiao Yao Er Xian’ [Xiao and Yao, two immortals]; because they both were outstandingly handsome men. Fan Yao had deliberately made his own face unbearably ugly; truly not many people could match his pain and suffering.

Wei Yixiao had never been close to Fan Yao; but this time he could not help but be deeply moved. He knelt down and saluted, “Fan Youshi,” he said, “Today Wei Yixiao truly submits to you.”

Fan Yao also knelt down to return his salute. Smiling he said, “Wei Fuwang’s ‘qing gong’ [lightness kungfu] is matchless in this world. Your divine skill is even better than in the past. Last night Ku Toutuo broadened his outlook.”

Yang Xiao looked around and said, “This place is not too far from the city; the enemy has ears and eyes everywhere. We’d better go farther up and talk on the mountain ahead.”

Four people ran for about ten ‘li’s and stop on the back of a small hill, where they were able to see for several ‘li’s around and thus did not have to worry anybody would hide and listen secretly, yet from a distant nobody would be able to see them. They sat down and told each other what happened after they were separated.

That year Yang Dingtian suddenly disappeared without any trace; the Ming Cult’s leaders fought with each other over the Cult Leader position. Nobody was willing to submit, so the Cult split up. Fan Yao still believed their Cult Leader had not passed away, so he wandered the Jianghu alone to look for his whereabouts. Several years passed and he had not found the slightest trail. Afterwards he thought that perhaps their Cult Leader was harmed by the Beggar Clan, so he secretly captured many Beggar Clan’s important people and tortured them to force a confession; still he did not find any clue, while in the process he had killed many innocent Beggar Clan members.

Later on he heard the escalating sharp dispute among the Ming Cult leaders; some people even went everywhere looking for him, they wanted to appeal to him. Fan Yao had never wanted to be the Cult Leader; he was also not willing to be involved in this power struggle. Hence he went as far as possible for fear that his brethren would find him. Thereupon he grew a long beard and disguised himself as an elderly scholar; wandering everywhere, free and unrestrained.

One particular day he saw someone at a bustling street in Dadou; he recognized that person as Madame Cult Leader’s martial brother Cheng Kun. He could not help to be secretly shocked. By that time there was a rumor in the Wulin world that many skilled pugilists were murdered, and there was always this message written on the adjacent wall: ‘The killer is Lightning Hands of the Originating Formation Cheng Kun’. He wanted to investigate this case, but also wanted to inquire the Yang Jiaozhu’s whereabouts to Cheng Kun; thereupon he followed Cheng Kun from a safe distance.

He saw Cheng Kun enter a restaurant, where two older men were waiting; they were the Xuanming Elders. Fan Yao knew Cheng Kun’s martial art level was high, so he sat on a rather far away table, drinking wine. He could only hear those three people talking indistinctly, but the words ‘must destroy the Brightness Peak’ were heard clearly. Hearing his cult was in danger Fan Yao could not ignore it; he followed those three secretly and saw them entering the Ruyang [a place in Henan] ‘wang fu’ [lit. king mansion – governmental palace]. Later he found out that those two Xuanming Elders were martial art experts under the employment of the Prince of Ruyang.

The Prince of Ruyang, Khakan Timur, was a very high ranking officer in charge of the military forces. He was brave and resourceful; in fact, he was the most capable person of the imperial household. He was the one who dispatched troops to suppress the rebellion of Jiang Huai [Jiangsu and Anhui]. It can be said that the victory and defeat of the imperial army was the sole responsibility of this prince Khakan Timur.

Zhang Wuji and the others had heard his name for quite some time, by now hearing that Lu Zhangke and the others were his subordinates, they more or less could guess, but in the end they were still surprised.

“Who, then, is this Miss Zhao?” Yang Xiao asked.

“Da Ge, there is no harm for you to take a guess,” Fan Yao answered.

“Is it possible that she is Khakan Timur’s daughter?” Yang Xiao said.

“Pretty good!” Fan Yao clapped his hands, “One guess and right on target. This Ruyang Wangye [Prince, lit. king master] has one son and one daughter. His son is Kuku Timur; his daughter is this girl. Her Mongolian name is Minmin Timur something. Kuku Timur is Ruyang Wangye’s crown prince; he will succeed his father as the future Prince Ruyang. The daughter’s title is Shao Min Jun Zhu [‘jun zhu’ means a ruler of some region, or a princess. Translator’s note: I don’t know how to translate this ‘Shao Min’ name; I guess we’ll leave it as is: a name.]. These two children are good in martial arts and they both have good level of skill. They love to dress as Han people and they speak Han language. They even adopted Han names; the boy chose Wang Baobao, while the girl chose Zhao Min. These two characters ‘Zhao Min’ came from her title, Shao Min Jun Zhu.”

Wei Yixiao smiled and said, “These brother and sister are very strange; one uses Wang as his surname, the other Zhao. From our Han people’s perspective, it is very funny.”

Fan Yao said, “Actually, their surname is Timur. Their given names are in the front; this is the custom of the barbarians. Ruyang Wangye Khakan Timur also has a Han’s surname; which is Li.” Speaking to this point the four of them burst out in laughter.

[Author’s note: In the New Yuan History, 220th chapter, on the biography of Khakan Timur: ‘Khakan Timur was the ancestor of Kuokuotai, Zunaimantai, Fualuwen. He made Henan his home and thus was known as Shenqiu people. Later he changed his surname to Li.’ Although officially Kuku Timur was his crown prince, in reality he was Khakan Timur’s sister’s son. This little detail is not distinguished clearly in the novel.]

[Translator’s note: I apologize for not able to find any reference on the above note; hence my translation might be inaccurate.]

Yang Xiao said, “This Miss Zhao’s appearance and lifestyle is just like Han people, but the way she handles affairs was so fierce and ruthless, revealing her true barbarian origin.”

Until that moment Zhang Wuji did not know Zhao Min’s origin. Although he guessed she must be from the royal household, he had never expected that she was actually the daughter of Prince Ruyang who was the commander of the Yuan Dynasty’s military forces. He had fought with her several times and each time he was somewhat overpowered. Although her martial art skill was not as good as his, when it comes to quick-thinking and resourcefulness, he was not her match.

Fan Yao continued, “Subordinate continued listening secretly and found out that Prince Ruyang had made up his mind to exterminate Jianghu’s martial art exponents [‘men, pai, bang, hui’ – gate, sect, clan and society]. He had accepted Cheng Kun’s scheme, in which the first step was to eliminate our Cult. I considered it carefully; our Cult was involved in endless internal strife, while the enemy was so strong, our destruction was imminent. The only way to prevent this is by entering the palace, learning Prince Ruyang’s plot, and act accordingly. Other than that I could not think of anything else. What I found to be strange was that Cheng Kun is not only Madame Yang Jiaozhu’s martial brother, but he is also Xie Shi Wang’s [Lion King Xie] master; why did he hate our Cult so much? I thought about it but could not come up with a good answer. I thought he must be seeking riches and honor so that by exterminating our Cult he would render a meritorious service to the kingdom. There are not too many Cult brethrens who know Cheng Kun, but I have met him once, so he knew me. To prevent my plan from leaking out, I have to kill this man.”

“You should,” Wei Yixiao commented.

“But this man is so sly, also his martial art is strong,” Fan Yao continued, “I have tried to kill him secretly three times but to no avail. The third time I managed to stab him with a sword, but I was hacked by his palm. It was really not easy for me to escape. I did not reveal my identity, but I suffered a severe injury, which took me more than a year to recover. By this time the Ruyang Palace conspiracy has ripened. I thought if I disguise myself I might be able to conceal my identity for a while. In the past the number of Jianghu people who knew me and Yang Xiong [brother Yang] as the ‘Xiao Yao Two Immortals’ were truly not a few. Over longer period of time I will surely give myself away. Thereupon clenching my teeth I destroyed my own face and disguised myself as a Toutuo. I used some medicine to dye my hair, and went to the Watzu kingdom of the Western Region.”

“Watzu kingdom?” Wei Yixiao wondered, “It is tens of thousands ‘li’s away; why did you go there?”

Fan Yao smiled, but before he could answer Yang Xiao clapped his hands and said, “That’s a marvelous idea! Wei Xiong, Fan Xiongdi went to Watzu kingdom looking for a chance to show his skill, so that the Mongolian nobility would surely notice. Prince of Ruyang was looking for warriors from all over the world, so if the ruler of Watzu wanted to please the Prince, he would send him to the palace to offer his service. This way Fan Xiongdi became a warrior from the Watzu kingdom. His face was changed, also he did not open his mouth. Even if Cheng Kun had divine skill, there is no way he would have recognized him.”

Wei Yixiao heaved a deep sigh and said, “Yang Jiaozhu placed the Xiao Yao Er Xian above the four ‘Fa Wang’ [Protector King]; his vision was truly as bright as a torch. This kind of scheming, some Eagle King, Bat King, will never think about.”

“Wei Xiong, that’s enough of praising,” Fan Yao said, “Just like Yang Zuoshi said, in Watzu I killed some lions and slaughtered some tigers, making a name for myself; for their honor, the local king sent me to the Ruyang Palace. But that Cheng Kun was not in the palace; I didn’t know where he went.”

Immediately Yang Xiao narrated briefly the enmity between Cheng Kun and the Ming Cult; how he sneaked into the Brightness Peak to attack, and how Zhang Wuji thwarted his treacherous plan, and how in the end he fought with Yin Yewang and finally died.

As Fan Yao listened to this story he was silent for half a day; he did not realize that there were so many twist and turns in this affair. He stood up and bowed respectfully toward Zhang Wuji, “Jiaozhu,” he said, “Subordinate would like to ask for your forgiveness.”

“Fan Youshi, there is no need to be modest,” Zhang Wuji replied.

Fan Yao said, “When subordinate entered the Ruyang Palace, in order to win the King’s heart, during a disturbance in the market place subordinate has killed three of our own Cult’s ‘xiang zhu’ [a position within the Ming Cult; I am not sure how to translate this term properly], giving the impression that there was a deep enmity between myself and the Ming Cult.”

Zhang Wuji was silent, he thought, “Killing a Cult brother is one of our Cult’s five big prohibitions; that was the reason why although Yang Zuoshi, Four ‘Fa Wang’s, Five-Element Flags and the others fought fiercely over the Cult Leader position, they had never killed a fellow Cult brother. Fan Youshi’s transgression is really not light, but his primary motivation was to protect our Cult and not because of personal grudge, so I really cannot judge him guilty.” He said, “Fan Youshi has suffered so much in protecting our Cult, I can’t really blame you.”

Fan Yao bowed and said, “Thank you for Jiaozhu’s forgiveness.”

Zhang Wuji silently thought, “A man as cruel as Fan Youshi is truly rare. He is capable of mutilating his own face with seventeen, eighteen cuts; then he killed several of our own Cult’s innocent ‘xiang zhu’s, all without any guilty feeling. People calling the Ming Cult a heretical Devil Cult is not without reason. I wonder if, in the future, we can change this perverse and evil characteristic.”

Although with his mouth Zhang Wuji said, ‘I can’t really blame you,’ Fan Yao could see the unsatisfied look on his face. He held out his hand to draw Yang Xiao’s sword, and with a swing of his left hand he cut off two of his right hand fingers.

Zhang Wuji was shocked; he snatched the sword from Fan Yao’s hand and said, “Fan Youshi, you … you … why did you do this?”

Fan Yao replied, “Killing our own innocent Cult brothers is a grave offense. Fan Yao still has an unfinished important matter, so I can’t kill myself yet. I cut my two fingers first then later on I’ll cut my own head.”

Zhang Wuji said, “I have already forgiven Fan Youshi’s mistake, why bother doing this? We should be more concerned over the important matter. Fan Youshi, don’t raise this matter anymore.” He quickly took out some cut wound medicine and applied it to his wound; he also tore up his own clothes and wrapped Fan Youshi’s wound. He knew in his heart that this man was hard-hearted; although Zhang Wuji said he did not hold him accountable, he could see any sign in Fan Youshi’s face that he would take Zhang Wuji’s words by heart. He was capable of doing what he said, so there was a great possibility he would commit suicide in the future for his own crime. Zhang Wuji remembered how he had suffered this much for the sake of the Cult, his heart was moved. Suddenly he knelt down and said, “Fan Youshi, you have rendered a great service to the Cult; please accept my respect. If you harm yourself, that means you are saying to me that I am neither competent nor worthy to hold the Jiaozhu position. You stab yourself with a sword, I will stab myself twice. I am young and my knowledge is shallow; I don’t understand much of our affair, I can’t distinguish good from evil.”

As they saw their Jiaozhu kneel down, Fan Yao, Yang Xiao and Wei Yixiao quickly knelt down on the ground. With tears in his eyes Yang Xiao said, “Fan Xiongdi, please rest your case. Our Cult’s prosperity and decline are in the hands of our Jiaozhu only. Jiaozhu has given you an order, you surely must not disobey it.”

Fan Yao saluted and said, “Today subordinate has tested his sword and palm skill against Jiaozhu’s, and I fell on my knees in full admiration. Ku Toutuo’s personality is eccentric and unreasonable, I am asking for Jiaozhu’s forgiveness.”

Zhang Wuji held out his hands to stand him up. From that day forward a strong bond had formed between the two; no more misunderstandings happened.

Fan Yao continued his narration on what happened after he entered the Ruyang Palace. The Ruyang Prince, Khakan Timur, was very capable in commanding the military force. Unfortunately for him the royal government was dominated by corrupt ministers, plus the current emperor was a muddle-head, so chaos and confusion reigned everywhere in the kingdom; insurrections arose everywhere, forcing the Ruyang Prince to dispatch troop’s expeditions to east and to the west, crushing innumerable rebellions. These insurrections had kept the Ruyang Prince busy for years and his plan of annihilating the Jianghu’s sects, schools and clans was put on hold for the time being.

Several years passed; his children grew up. While his son Kuku Timur followed his steps commanding the troops, his daughter Minmin Timur gathered Mongolian warriors under her command, Western Region’s warriors and foreign monks, to carry out a large scale attack against the sects, schools and clans. Cheng Kun secretly helped her engineer the plan; taking advantage of the six major sects’ besiege of the Brightness Peak, Zhao Min sent a large quantities of her martial art masters in an attempt to extinguish the Ming Cult and the six major sects all at once.

The Green Willow Manor affairs and the subsequent events were part of this grand scheme. At that time Fan Yao’s assignment was to protect the Ruyang Prince, hence he did not participate in the attack to the western region and he did not learn about the attack until much later. Fan Yao said that although he did not raise any suspicion in the Ruyang Palace, Zhao Min would not allow him to participate in the attack to the western region since he came from the western region. Perhaps it was also part of Cheng Kun’s idea.

Zhao Min used the poison ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ [ten-fragrance muscle softener powder], offered by the foreign western region monk, to drug the masters of the six major sects who were just returning from the Brightness Peak, by poisoning their food. This poison had no color and no smell, so once it was mixed in the dishes, who could detect it? Once the drug worked, the muscles and bones in one’s whole body would be weakened for a few days. Although they were able to move around as usual, they could not exert the least bit of internal energy; for that reason all the six major sects’ masters who were involved in the Brightness Peak expedition were captured one by one within just one short month. It was when they tried to drug the third group Shaolin monks under Kong Xing’s command that they were detected. A fierce battle followed, Kong Xing died under Ah San’s hand; about a dozen or so others died under the hands of Xuanming Elders, Shen Jian Ba Xiong [Eight Divine Archers], as well as Ah Da, Ah Er, Ah San and the others. The rest were captured.

The next step was to raid the six major sects’ bases; the first being the Shaolin Sect. The Shaolin Temple was heavily guarded, so it was not easy to mix the poison into their food. It was completely different from drugging the monks when they were spending the night in the inn while traveling. Therefore, they had to resort to different method. “’Jun zhu’ [princess] was afraid their strength was not sufficient to fight the Shaolin Temple head-on, so they called for reinforcement from Dadou, which happened to be under my command. We arrived right on time to help capturing the Shaolin monks. Shaolin Sect is always rude to our Cult; so I was glad they undergo a little bit of suffering. Even if I have to kill several stinky monks, Ku Toutuo won’t crease my brows. Jiaozhu, I believe you’ll agree with me, ha … ha …!”

“Xiong di [brother],” Yang Xiao interrupted, “Were you the one who turned those Luohan statues around?”

Fan Yao said with a smile, “I saw ‘Jun zhu’ ordered her people to carve those sixteen characters on the back of the Luo Han statues; her intention was to shift the blame to our Cult. Later on I came back quietly and turned those statues back. Dage [big brother], you are very observant, you managed to find out about this matter. At that time did you guess it was ‘Xiong di’?”

Yang Xiao said, “At that time we only know that there was a master helping our Cult in secret; how would I know that it was my old partner, good brother?” Four people broke up in laughter. Immediately Yang Xiao told Fan Yao briefly that the Ming Cult had ceased all enmity with the six major sects and joined hands to fight the Mongols together; for that reason they must rescue all the masters.

Fan Yao said, “The enemy is numerous, we are only four people; it will be difficult for us to accomplish this. The best way would be to get the antidote for ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ and feed it to those stinky monks, stinky nuns and all those ox-noses; after their internal strength is recovered then we can make a surprised attack to those Tartars and then we can escape Dadou together.”

The Ming Cult had never had any good relationship with Shaolin, Wudang and other orthodox sects, so in his speech Fan Yao did not have the slightest respect toward these six major sects. Yang Xiao tried to cast him some meaningful glances, but Fan Yao was oblivious to him. But actually Zhang Wuji did not mind at all; he clapped his hands and said, “That’s great, Fan Youshi; but then how are we going to get the antidote for the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’?”

Fan Yao said, “Although ‘Jun zhu’ pays me a lot of respect, she has never discussed any important matter with me because I’ve never opened my mouth. When she talked and the other person did not utter a single word, how could she not be disappointed? Moreover, I came from a small country in the western region, so she could not treat me as a trusted friend. Hence I don’t know where the antidote for the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ is. But I do know that this matter is very important to her, so she would guard this secret carefully. If my guess is correct, the poison and the antidote are in the hands of the Xuanming Elders; one has the poison, the other has the antidote, and they swap those poison and antidote periodically.”

Yang Xiao sighed and said, “This princess is so cunning that even a man might not necessarily be better than her. Doesn’t she trust the Xuanming Elders?”

Fan Yao replied, “First, distrust is right; second, it is also safer this way. Take us, for example, we want to steal the antidote; but we don’t know whether it is in Lu Zhangke’s hand, or is it in He Biweng’s hand? Moreover, I heard that between the poison and the antidote there is no distinct color or odor differences, so unless we are really familiar with it, we might end up stealing the poison when we want to steal the antidote. This ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ also has another fierce characteristic; when one took the poison, one’s muscles and bones would be weakened, but one’s life would not be threatened in any way. However, if that same person took the poison for the second time, even only for a little bit, immediately his blood flow will reverse and there is no cure for it.”

Wei Yixiao stuck out his tongue and said, “If that’s so, then we must not steal the wrong antidote.”

“That’s true,” Fan Yao said, “But I have an idea: we steal both the poison and the antidote from the Xuanming Elders then we give it to some low level master from Huashan or Kongtong Sect. If he dies, then that one is the poison. Don’t you think it is a good idea?”

Zhang Wuji realized he still had some heretical nature and did not put too much thought about other people’s life. He laughed, “That’s not good,” he said, “What if after we painstakingly steal them, they are both poison?”

Yang Xiao slapped his thigh, “Jiaozhu is right,” he said, “Last night we made such a commotion that perhaps ‘Jun zhu’ is scared and keep the antidote herself. I think we’d better investigate carefully who has the antidote then we’ll talk about how to get it from him.” He paused for a moment and then said, “Xiong di, what do those two Xuanming Elders like most?”

Fan Yao smiled and said, “Lu loves pretty face, He loves wine; what else do they like?”

“Jiaozhu,” Yang Xiao asked Zhang Wuji, “Is there any drug that can make someone physically weak like the effect of the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’?”

Zhang Wuji thought for a moment and smiled, “To make someone weak and drowsy is certainly not difficult; only if you give it to a martial art expert, he would recover in less than an hour. To make something as fierce as the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’, that I cannot do.”

Yang Xiao smiled, “About an hour is enough,” he said, “Subordinate has an idea, but I don’t know whether it will work. I am asking Jiaozhu to give me your opinion. Although I said it is an idea, it might be just a worthless thought. Fan Xiongdi, you invite He Biweng to drink some wine; put the poison Jiaozhu make into it. Then Fan Xiongdi make up some trouble, pretend that he is being poisoned by He Biweng with the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’; at that time we will find out who has the antidote. Then we can steal it and use it to rescue the others.”

Zhang Wuji said, “This idea is feasible; only it depends on He Biweng’s temperament. Fan Youshi, what do you think?”

Fan Yao contemplated this idea back and forth and thought that although this idea was simple, it was flawless; so he said, “I think Yang Dage’s idea is feasible. That He Biweng is temperamental, but he is not as smart as Lu Zhangke. If the antidote is in his hand, I think I can still deal with him even though my martial art skill is inferior to him.”

“What if the antidote is in Lu Zhangke’s hand?” Yang Xiao asked.

Fan Yao knitted his brows and said, “Then it is a lot more complicated.” He stood up and paced back and forth on that little hill. After a long time he clapped his hands and said, “I have a way; that Lu Zhangke is smarter than average men, if we try to trick him, he might see through our deception. We must get hold of his weakness and then blackmail him; of course he will consider the pros and the cons, but he will never realize our scheme. I know that this idea is risky; we might fail, but other than this I can’t think of anything else.”

“What kind of weakness does this old man have?” Yang Xiao asked, “He is an old man with a young heart; what weakness of his fall into Xiongdi’s hand?”

“In the spring this year Ruyang Wangye took a concubine and he invited some of us to an informal dinner in his residence,” Fan Yao said, “Wangye proudly talked about his beautiful concubine; he even ordered the new bride to come out and serve us wine. I saw Lu Zhangke’s lecherous eyes almost popped out of their sockets, while he swallowed his saliva; his heart was indeed burning with desire.”

“Then what happened?” Wei Yixiao asked.

“Nothing,” Fan Yao replied, “She is Wangye’s beloved concubine; although he has guts as high as the sky he would not dare to indulge his wicked thought.”

“Lecherous eyes can’t be called some secret you can blackmail him with,” Wei Yixiao said.

“I can’t blackmail him over that matter,” Fan Yao said, “But I am going to bother Wei Xiong [brother Wei]; with your ‘qing gong’ [lightness skill] you can go and steal Ruyang Wangye’s beloved concubine and place her on Lu Zhangke’s bed. I am 70, 80% sure that this old lecher won’t be able to hold his desire forever. Even if he really is able to rein his horse before falling off the cliff, I will rush in. Although he has a hundred mouths he won’t be able to wash himself clean, so he will be forced to hand the antidote over to me nicely.”

Yang Xiao and Wei Yixiao laughed and clapped their hands, “This is a very nice ploy. Although he is as smart as the Devil, he will be framed for sure.”

Zhang Wuji was annoyed and amused at the same time, thinking that he was the leader of this heretical and unorthodox bunch. But although their conduct was sly and no different than Zhao Min and her people; they were doing it for a good cause, not an evil one. So in a way it was completely different from Zhao Min. It could be said that they were using poison to combat poison. Having this thought he relaxed a little bit; smiling he said, “It’s a pity Ruyang Wangye’s concubine’s honor will be ruined.”

Fan Yao replied with a smile, “I will rush into the room as soon as possible, so Lu Zhangke won’t have a chance to molest her.”

Immediately four people sat down to discuss their plan in detail; after acquiring the antidote, Fan Yao was to rush to the pagoda and distribute it to masters of Shaolin, Wudang, and the other sects. Zhang Wuji and Wei Yixiao would wait outside the temple. As soon as Fan Yao set off fire in the Wan An Temple, they would set the common people’s homes around the temple on fire, so that the group of warriors could take advantage of this confusion to escape. Yang Xiao would buy some horses and prepare some carriages and wait outside the western city gate; the warriors would then use these horses and carriages to separately escape from the city, and to finally rendezvous at Changping.

Zhang Wuji objected to the idea of burning common people’s homes; he would rather not to implicate the innocents. But Yang Xiao said, “Jiaozhu, the affair of this world is oftentimes difficult to predict. We are saving the warriors of the six major sects so that someday we will drive the Tartars away; that would certainly benefit millions of common people. Today we are forced to harm hundreds of homes, this is because we don’t have any other alternative.”

Once the plan was decided four people went back to the city separately to attend to their individual business. Yang Xiao went to buy some horses and hired some carriages. Zhang Wuji bought the ingredients and concocted some drugs. To conceal the taste, he added three types of spices so when it was mixed with the wine, it would produce a sweet smelling fragrance. Wei Yixiao went to the market and bought a big cloth sack. When the sky turned dark he went to the Ruyang Palace and kidnapped the Prince’s concubine.

Fan Yao and Xuanming Elders, along with other martial art experts, lived nearby the Wan An Temple complex to guard the major sects warriors. Zhao Min still lived at the palace; only on the evenings she wanted to learn martial art did she ride a carriage to go to the temple. Fan Yao took the drug back to the temple with a happy and grateful heart. He remembered how over the last twenty years or so the Ming Cult was in disunity, but today a new hope emerged; his many sufferings over the years were not in vain. Zhang Wuji was not only a martial art expert, but his heart was righteous as well, so others can easily put their trust in him. The only problem was that Zhang Wuji was not cruel and merciless enough; he was somewhat weak and fussy, otherwise he would be a perfect leader.

Fan Yao lived in the west building, while the Xuanming Elders stayed at the ‘bao xiang jing she’ [the most refined precious fragrance hall] of the rear courtyard. Normally he did not hang around those two elders too much for fear that they might be able to look through his disguise; that was the reason he chose a room far away from them. Now he had to invite He Biweng to drink wine, he did not have any idea how to do it. Casting his glance to the rear courtyard he saw the sun was setting in the sky; already the sun could not reach the lower half of the 13-level pagoda, while the light reflected from the glazed tiles on top of the pagoda were also gradually turning pale. He still did not know what to do. Slowly pacing back and forth along the rear courtyard with his hands behind his back, he suddenly caught a sweet fragrance of meat from the small building opposite the ‘bao xiang jing she’; it was the building where Sun Sanhui and Li Sicui of the Eight Divine Archers lived.

Fan Yao’s heart was stirred; he walked toward that building, shoved the door open, and the strong meat smell greeted his nostrils. He saw Li Sicui was squatting on the floor, busily fanning the fire in a small brick stove, on which was a big earthenware pot. The fire was blazing hot; the strong smell of meat came out of that pot. Sun Sanhui was setting the bowls and chopsticks on the table. Obviously these two were about to have their dinner.

They were slightly startled as they saw Ku Toutuo push the door and come in; upon seeing his stern face they groaned inwardly. They had just killed a big yellow dog on the street; cut its limbs and quietly cooked the dog inside their room. Wan An Temple was a Buddhist temple, so cooking meat in the temple was a great trespass. If it was other people they might still get away from it, but Ku Toutuo was a Buddhist monk. If he was angered he might beat them up. Ku Toutuo’s martial art skill was very high, these two people certainly were not his match; moreover, they were the ones who committed the crime, so if they were beaten, they got what they deserved. Thinking of this they were scared; but then they saw him walking to the stove, opened the lid, took a look and drew a deep breath, seemingly to say, ‘Smells good, smells good!’ Suddenly they saw him putting his hand into the pot, seemingly oblivious to the boiling soup, to fish out a slice of dog meat. Opening his mouth wide he put the meat entirely in his mouth; chewing it for a while and swallowed it. Then he licked his lips as if he was tremendously enjoying the meat.

Sun and Li two people were delighted, they busily said, “Ku Dashi [Reverend Ku], please sit down, please sit down! We didn’t know you like to eat dog meat.”

But Ku Toutuo did not want to take a seat; he squatted in front of the stove and picked another piece of dog meat and chewed it right there. Sun Sanhui wanted to win his heart, so he presented a bowl of wine to him. Ku Toutuo took the bowl and drank a mouthful, but suddenly he spat it back out to the ground. He waved his left hand in front of his nose, as if he was saying that the wine was of inferior quality and not good to drink; and then he left the room in big strides.

Sun and Li two people were anxious to see him going out of the room, seemingly angry. But not too long afterwards they saw him back with a big wine gourd in his hand. “Right! Right!” they exclaimed delightfully, “Our wine is a low quality one; Ku Dashi has a good quality wine, nothing can be better than that!” They busily arranged the stool and the bowl, inviting Ku Toutuo to sit on the head of the table; they took a bowl full of dog meat and served it in front of him. Ku Toutuo’s martial art skill was very high; among Zhao Min’s subordinates he could be ranked near the top. Under normal circumstances the Eight Divine Archers would not curry favor with anybody, but today they had an opportunity to invite him eating dog meat, perhaps if his heart was happy he would impart to them one or two special skills, then they would reap the benefit for the rest of their lives.

Ku Toutuo pulled out the gourd’s cork and poured three bowls full of wine. The wine was golden yellow in color and it was rather thick like diluted honey; as soon as it was poured, a sweet aroma greeted their nostrils. Sun and Li two people cheered, “Good wine! Good wine!”

Fan Yao silently mused, “I wonder if the Xuanming Elders are home; if they are out and not back yet, then what I am doing right now is useless.” He took the wine bowl and held it above the pot on the stove; while the dog meat was boiling, the steam rose up and warmed up the wine, making the wine aroma stronger.

Sun and Li two people were drooling over the wine; they were going to drink the wine cold, but Ku Toutuo signaled them not to do that, he told them to warm the wine before drinking it. Three people took turn warming their wine over the boiling soup; the aroma spread out everywhere. If He Biweng was not in the temple complex, then that was the end of it. Otherwise if he was around the courtyard would be impossible for him not to smell the wine and come over. And sure enough, the door of the ‘bao xiang jing she’ across the street opened up and He Biweng was shouting, “Good wine, good wine! Hey, hey!”

He was not shy; so he crossed the courtyard toward their door, he pushed it open and walked in. He was startled to see Ku Toutuo along with Sun and Li two people gathered around the stove, drinking wine and eat the dog meat, with the soup dripping everywhere. He Biweng laughed and said, “Ku Dashi, I didn’t know you like eating and drinking too; we have the same taste.”

Sun and Li two people busily stood up and said, “He Gong-gong [grandfather, respectful term toward someone older], quickly drink some wine, this is Ku Dashi’s good wine, not everybody can drink it.”

He Biweng sat opposite Ku Toutuo, it was as if they were having an eating and drinking competition; Sun and Li two people ended up became their servants, busily serving them meat and pouring them wine. Four people were all in high spirits, they ate and drank for half a day and were 60, 70% drunk. “Now I can make my move,” Fan Yao thought.

After pouring wine on his own bowl until it was full, he laid the wine gourd horizontally on the table. Turned out his wine gourd’s cork was hollow. He put the powder made by Zhang Wuji inside the cavity and wrapped the cork with two pieces of cloth. When the wine gourd stood upright, the powder did not fall down, so what the four of them drank was ordinary good wine. But once the wine gourd was laid on its side, the wine would wet the cloth and diluted the powder, so now the wine became poisonous. The bottom of the wine gourd was round, so it did not matter whether it was standing upright on lying down on its side; besides, they had been drinking for a good long while, so nobody paid any attention. They were drunk and felt entirely carefree.

After He Biweng drank the bowl in front of him, Fan Yao pulled the cork and handed the gourd over to him. He Biweng poured a bowlful of wine for himself, and then he also poured some wine in Sun and Li’s bowls. Because Ku Toutuo’s bowl was still full, he did not pour any wine for him. Four people lifted the bowl to their mouth and ‘glug, glug’ they emptied their bowls. Other than Fan Yao, the three of them had drunk the poisoned wine.

Sun and Li two people’s internal strength was not too deep; once the drug entered their system they immediately felt their limbs weaken and their bodies get sick. In a low voice Sun Sanhui said, “Si di [fourth brother], there is something wrong with my tummy.”

“I … I … I think I am poisoned,” Li Sicui also said. By this time He Biweng also felt something was wrong; he tried to circulate his internal strength, but failed. His expression changed drastically.

Fan Yao stood up; his face was full of anger, he grabbed He Biweng’s collar and grunted some ‘Heh, heh’ noise, but did not say anything. Sun Sanhui was scared, “Ku Dashi, what is it?” he said. Fan Yao dipped his finger in the wine and wrote ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ five characters on the table. Sun and Li two people knew that the Xuanming Elders were in charge of this poison, and so it seemed Ku Toutuo and the two of them were being poisoned with this drug. They looked at each other and knelt down in front of He Biweng, “He Gong-gong,” they pleaded, “We two brothers do not dare to offend you, Senior; please don’t punish us too severely.” Both of them thought that He Biweng was trying to attack Ku Toutuo, and they happened to be there, so they suffered as innocent bystanders; if He Biweng meant to harm them, he did not need to use any poison.

He Biweng was also greatly shocked; this month it was indeed his turn to be in charge of the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’, which he hid inside his left crane-beak pen. This pair of weapons had never left his body even for a single step, so it would be impossible for anybody to steal it without his knowledge. But as luck would have it, he could not exert the least bit of internal energy, so without a doubt he must have been poisoned with the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’. Actually, although the drug Zhang Wuji made was also potent, but it was greatly inferior to the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’; the effect felt by the victim was not the same. But He Biweng only knew that the victim of ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ would lose their ability to exert their internal energy, he had never taken the poison personally; therefore, although the difference was great, he was not able to distinguish between the two.

He saw Ku Toutuo look flustered and angry, while Sun and Li two people did not stop imploring him to have mercy; his doubt was gone, he said, “Ku Dashi, please don’t be angry; we are brothers here, how could I have an ill intention to harm you? I am also poisoned; I feel weak all over my body. I don’t know who is playing dirty trick on us. It’s really strange.”

Fan Yao dipped his finger in the wine again and wrote on the table, ‘Quickly give us the antidote.’

He Biweng nodded and said, “That’s right, we must take the antidote first, then we’ll find and deal with the traitor who played this trick on us. But the antidote is in Lu Shige’s [martial (older) brother] hand. Ku Dashi, please come with me.”

Fan Yao was secretly delighted; he did not expect Yang Xiao’s plan worked flawlessly, without too much trouble he found out where the antidote was. Holding up his left hand he grabbed He Biweng’s wrist, deliberately making his steps falter. They crossed the courtyard together, walking toward the ‘bao xiang jing she’.

He Biweng was secretly happy to see Fan Yao staggering, he thought, “This Ku Toutuo’s martial art is supposedly very high, but he has never contended against us, two brothers. Looking at his flustered condition after being poisoned, it seems like his internal strength is way below ours.”

Two people walked over the hall’s gate. He Biweng’s room was against the south wall, while Lu Zhangke lived in the room against the north wall. The door of the northern room was tightly closed. “Shige,” He Biweng called out, “Are you home?”

Lu Zhangke answered from inside the room. He Biweng stretched out his hand to push the door open, but it was bolted. “Shige, hurry up and open the door,” he called out, “This is important.”

“What’s so important?” Lu Zhangke asked, “I am busy training my martial art. Can you not disturb me?”

He Biweng and Lu Zhangke’s martial arts came from the same school, their skill levels were almost equal. But first of all Lu Zhangke entered their school earlier, secondly he was smarter, hence He Biweng had always been respectful to him. Hearing his annoyed tone, He Biweng did not dare to call again.

Fan Yao, on the other hand, could not wait any longer; if the drug’s effect disappeared, his scheme would be exposed. Therefore, disregarding everything he pushed the door with his right shoulder, breaking the bolt and the door flew open. A shrill cry of female voice was heard. Lu Zhangke was standing in front of the bed; hearing the sound of the broken door he turned his head immediately. His expression was that of startling and embarrassment. Fan Yao saw lying on the bed was a woman, her body was wrapped inside a sheet of blanket, her head was the only part exposed, the blanket was tied up with a string of rope, just like a bedding roll. The woman’s long hair spread outside the blanket, her face was white and beautiful. Fan Yao recognized her as the Ruyang Prince’s new beloved concubine, Han Shi [lit. a maiden with surname of Han]; he said in his heart, “Wei Fuwang [Bat King Wei] is really good. He managed to enter the palace alone to kidnap Concubine Han and bring her over here.”

Actually, although the Ruyang Palace was tightly guarded, but the warriors only concentrated on guarding the Prince, the Crown Prince and the Princess [original: Wangye (lit. master king), Shi zi (a royal son), and Jun zhu (princess)] three people; nobody had ever thought of someone kidnapping one of the numerous concubines around the palace. Besides, Wei Yi Xiao moved like lightning, he was quick and agile exceptionally; as soon as he entered the Palace he stealthily kidnapped Concubine Han and brought her out. It was actually a lot more difficult for him to enter Lu Zhangke’s room. He waited for half a day before finally Lu Zhangke left his room to go to the bathroom. Like a ghost he sneaked in and put Concubine Han on the bed, and just as quick he left the room.

When Lu Zhangke returned he saw a woman was lying on his bed. He jumped out his room immediately; looking to four directions he did not see anybody, Wei Yixiao was already far away, other than some noise of eating and drinking from Sun and Li two people’s room, he saw nothing unusual. Lu Zhangke felt strange, but maintaining his composure he returned to his room. When he looked at the woman, he was dumbstruck. That day when the Prince took a new concubine and invited his top-tier warriors for an informal dinner in his palace, Concubine Han served the wine. She was graceful and full of smiles. Although Lu Zhangke was not young anymore, he was unable to restrain his soul to be stolen by her. He was a lecherous man and all his life he had devastated countless women of respectable families. That day when he saw Concubine Han’s beauty he sighed and regretted that he did not meet this kind of beautiful woman earlier. If he had seen her before she was taken by the Prince, he was certain she would not escape from his hand. He had oftentimes remembered her for many days to come; but afterwards he found a new lover and Concubine Han slowly faded from his memory.

To his complete surprise right at this moment Concubine Han was on his bed, as if she was dropped from heaven. He was pleasantly surprised. Thinking for a moment he guessed it must be his oldest disciple Wuwang Apu who knew his deepest desire and had secretly took Concubine Han away for him.

Lu Zhangke saw she was wrapped inside a blanket, the exposed skin of her neck was as white as snow. Faintly he could see her obviously naked shoulder, as if she was not wearing any clothes inside the blanket; his heart was thumping wildly with excitement. He quietly asked her how she came to this place; but after asking her several times, Concubine Han still did not give him any answer. Finally Lu Zhangke guessed her acupoint must be sealed. He was about to reach out and unseal her acupoint when He Biweng and the others arrived at his door and then Ku Toutuo shoved the door open. It was an unexpected change and Lu Zhangke was in an extremely awkward situation. He meant to cover her up, but it was already too late. Now he thought that perhaps the Prince had discovered that his concubine was kidnapped and sent Ku Toutuo to arrest him. Things had come thus far, he had no choice but trying to escape. ‘Shua!’ his right hand unsheathed his deer antler staff, while his left hand grabbed Concubine Han with the intention of rushing out through the window.

“Shige,” He Biweng was startled, “Quickly give me the antidote.”

“What?” Lu Zhangke asked.

He Biweng answered, “I don’t now how, but Xiao Di [little brother] and Ku Dashi are poisoned with the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’.”

“What did you say?” Lu Zhangke asked again, and He Biweng repeated what he said. “Isn’t the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ in your hand?” Lu Zhangke was confused.

“Xiao Di is also baffled,” He Biweng said, “We, four people, were merrily eating and drinking, and suddenly we were all poisoned. Lu Shige, quickly take the antidote and give it to us.”

Listening to this part Lu Zhangke’s fear subsided. He returned Concubine Han to the bed, making sure that her head was facing inside. He Biweng knew his martial brother’s lecherous nature, so seeing a woman inside his room was not surprising at all. Moreover, He Biweng was so frightened of being poisoned that he did not pay any attention to what the woman looked like. Besides, he would not recognize her anyway. That day during the banquet at the Palace, when Concubine Han came out to serve the wine, she retreated right after greeting the guests. He Biweng only had his eyes on the wine; why would he care if that woman wearing pearl bracelet and jade necklace was beautiful or ugly?

Lu Zhangke said, “Ku Dashi, please come in and take a rest with He Xiong Di [brother He] here, I’ll go to get the antidote.” While speaking, he gently pushed them to lead them inside. Because of this, He Biweng faltered and nearly fell down. Fan Yao also staggered, pretending that his internal strength was gone. But his internal strength was actually very deep, so as soon as there was an external force, his internal strength reacted naturally. As Lu Zhangke pushed, he immediately knew his Shidi [martial (younger) brother] really lost his internal strength, while Ku Toutuo was only pretending.

Lu Zhangke was afraid he was mistaken, so he pushed them one more time. He Biweng and Ku Toutuo fell back together outside, but Lu Zhangke felt while one was devoid of strength, the other was stable and solid. Lu Zhangke maintained his composure; he smiled and said, “Ku Dashi, I am sorry.” While saying that he held out his hand as if he was going to help Ku Toutuo stand up, but actually he was going to grab the ‘hui zong’ [gathering ancestor] and ‘wai guan’ [outside passage] acupoints on Ku Toutuo’s wrist.

Fan Yao understood his intention and knew that his scheme was exposed. With a wave of his left hand he heavily hit the ‘hun men xue’ [soul gate acupoint] on He Biweng’s back, rendering him paralyzed for the next three quarters of an hour. Fan Yao understood that he had to fight a martial art master; but he was not afraid of Lu Zhangke if it was a one-to-one fight. “Hey, hey,” he sneered and said, “Are you bored of your life? How dare you kidnap wangye’s beloved concubine?”

As he opened his mouth to speak, the Xuanming Elders were shocked. They had known Ku Toutuo for fifteen, sixteen years, yet they had never heard him say even a single word. For all they know, Ku Toutuo was mute since his birth. Although Lu Zhangke knew Ku Toutuo did not have good intentions towards him, he had never suspected this man to be able to speak. Come to think about it, Ku Toutuo had deliberately planned this deception, then without a doubt he meant to place Lu Zhangke in a more dangerous situation. He immediately said, “Turned out Ku Dashi is not mute at all. You have been concealing the truth for more than a dozen years; what is your intention?”

Fan Yao said, “Wangye knew your heart is not right, he ordered me to pretend to be mute and stay near you to keep watch over you.” There were actually many flaws in his argument, but the fact was Concubine Han was on Lu Zhangke’s bed, so even if he did not have any ill intention, it was hard for Lu Zhangke not to believe. Besides, he knew very well how the Ruyang Prince treated the masters under his command.

As Fan Yao said those words, Lu Zhangke felt his knees weakened. “Wangye ordered you to arrest me?” he said, “Hey, hey, although you are the Ku Dashi, master of martial art, you might not necessarily able to capture me, Lu Zhangke.” While saying that he raised his deer staff, ready to fight.

Fan Yao laughed a little bit and said, “Mr. Lu, although Ku Toutuo’s martial art skill is not superior to yours, but the difference is not much. If you want to defeat me, I am afraid you won’t accomplish that within one or two thousand moves. It’s not difficult for you to have three moves or two stances advantage over me, but if you are thinking of taking Concubine Han along and saving your martial brother, I don’t think you, Lu Zhangke, have this kind of ability.”

Lu Zhangke shot a look at his martial brother; he knew Ku Toutuo was not speaking an empty threat. His martial brother and he had been studying martial art together since their childhood all the way until they were both old, they had never been separated for even a day. Both did not have wife or children, all they had was each other; hence it would be very hard for him to escape alone and abandon his martial brother.

Fan Yao understood his heart was moved, he called out to Sun and Li two people, telling them to enter the room and then he said, “Mr. Lu, nobody knew about this matter yet. Ku Toutuo is willing to protect you.”

Lu Zhangke was surprised; “Protect me?” he asked, “How?”

Without answering Fan Yao turned around and sealed Sun and Li two people’s mute and paralyze acupoints; his movement was swift and accurate, forcing Lu Zhangke to silently sigh in admiration. Ku Toutuo said, “Certainly you won’t tell anybody yourself, your Shidi won’t intentionally make things difficult for you. Ku Toutuo was mute, and he will stay mute, can’t speak a word. About these two brothers, Ku Toutuo can seal their death acupoints to close their mouths for good. I don’t think that’s a problem.”

Sun and Li two people were greatly shocked; they both thought that they had nothing to do with this matter, they were just having fun eating dog meat and drinking wine, yet it led them to this kind of big disaster. They wanted to implore, asking for mercy, but unfortunately they could not open their mouths.

Fan Yao pointed his finger to Concubine Han, “As for this concubine, the Old Monk has two ideas: the first is we wash our hands clean; take her along with Sun and Li two people to a deserted place and kill them with a blade. We’ll report to Wangye that she and Li Sicui, this handsome little thief, are having an affair and are running away together. Ku Toutuo found out about them and in his anger he killed both of them on the spot. We can spare Sun Sanhui’s life. The second idea is you take her away and hide her well. Whether later this matter leaks out or not, it will depend on your own ability.”

Lu Zhangke could not help from turning his head to look at Concubine Han; he saw on her eyes she was pleading him to take the second idea. Seeing her natural beauty Lu Zhangke felt that it would be a great pity if she were to be killed by a sword; his heart was greatly moved. “Thank you so much for standing up for me,” he said, “But since you are so thoughtful, there must be something you want from me. What is it?” He knew perfectly well Ku Toutuo would not help him without any compensation.

“It is an extremely easy matter,” Fan Yao replied, “I have a deep friendship with the Sect Leader of Emei Sect Miejue Shitai. That young miss surnamed Zhou is the result of my relationship with that old nun. I am asking you to give me the antidote so that I can rescue these two people. I will take full responsibility in front of Junzhu. If in anyway I implicate you, let the family of Ku Toutuo and the Old Nun Miejue, the males become thieves and the females become prostitutes, let us die a violent death without any opportunity to reincarnate forever.”

He thought that because of Lu Zhangke’s romatic nature, it would be easier to win his heart if Fan Yao raised the affair between a man and a woman. He also recalled Yang Xiao’s story about how many of his fellow Ming Cult brethrens had died under Miejue Shitai’s sword; hence he fabricated a fake story about a monk and a nun secret relationship. He was a heretical man to begin with, so his speech and conduct were not those of a gentleman. He did not mean it with his heart when he made a heavy oath of ‘the males become thieves and the females become prostitutes’ kind of punishment.

As Lu Zhangke listened, he broke into smile, as he thought that this old Toutuo was no different than he was; in order to save his old lover and his daughter he was willing to ask favor from other people. Although it was a risky venture , it was all worth it for the sake of a beautiful woman. As Ku Toutuo asked him a favor, Lu Zhangke felt relieved. He laughed and said, “So then kidnapping Wangye’s beloved concubine and brought her here is also Ku Dashi’s handiwork?”

Fan Yao replied, “This is an important matter, how can I request with an empty hand? Consider it my payment.”

Lu Zhangke was delighted, only he was afraid there was somebody outside, so he did not dare to laugh out loud. But suddenly he remembered something, “Then how could my Shidi got poisoned with the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’? Where did it come from?” he asked.

“Isn’t that easy?” Fan Yao replied, “The poison is in your Shidi’s hand, and he is a drunkard. Once he drank a lot of wine, can’t Ku Toutuo steal it from him?”

“Very well!” all Lu Zhangke’s doubts were gone, he said, “Ku Dashi, let Xiongdi [brother] become friends with you. I will not sell you, I hope you won’t play such a dirty trick on me again.”

Fan Yao pointed at Concubine Han and smiled, “Next time if you have a dirty trick as beautiful as this, I am asking Mr. Lu to set up a trap, let Ku Toutuo enter it. The Old Monk will happily fall into it.”

Two people laughed together, but each one actually had his own thought. Lu Zhangke secretly calculated how to kill this evil Toutuo after this current trouble had passed. Fan Yao knew that although Lu Zhangke submitted to his wish right now, but what kind of people were the Xuanming Elders that they were willing to let this kind of defeat go unavenged? As soon as Lu Zhangke hid Concubine Han and unsealed He Biweng’s acupoint, he would look for him to settle the debt. But at that time the masters of the six major sects would had been rescued and Fan Yao would shake the dust from his buttocks and walked away.

Seeing Lu Zhangke was slow in taking out the antidote, Fan Yao thought that if he urged, then Lu Zhangke might deliberately make things difficult, so he sat down and said with a laugh, “Why don’t Lu Xiong unseal Concubine Han’s acupoint? Then we all can drink several cups together. Looking at beautiful face under the bright lamp light is a rare lucky occasion that you won’t necessarily experience it once in a lifetime.”

Lu Zhangke knew that there were a lot of people in the Wan An Temple complex; the longer Concubine Han stayed in his room, the more dangerous their situation would be. Therefore, immediately he took the deer antler staff and turned one of the antlers open. He took a cup and pour some powder into it while saying, “Ku Dashi, Xiongdi concede defeat to your divine strategy; please take this antidote.”

Fan Yao shook his head, “Such a little antidote, what can I do with that?”

Lu Zhangke said, “Not to mention two people, this powder is enough to rescue six, seven people.”

“Don’t be stingy,” Fan Yao said, “What harm is it in giving me some more? To be brutally honest, you are so crafty that Ku Toutuo is afraid of your scheming.”

Seeing him wanted more of the antidote, Lu Zhangke suddenly stood up and said, “Ku Dashi, could it be that the people you want to rescue is not Miejue Shitai and your beloved daughter?”

Fan Yao was about to make some excuse when suddenly they heard footsteps on the courtyard; about seven, eight people rushed in. One of them was heard saying, “The footprints stop here. Could it be that Concubine Han is in the Wan An Temple area?”

Lu Zhangke’s expression changed; he pulled the cup back into his bosom, out of Ku Toutuo’s reach. He thought that Ku Toutuo had prepared an ambush; as soon as he took the antidote, he would make his move. Fan Yao waved his hand, telling him not to panic, then he took a blanket and covered up Concubine Han, including her head; he also pulled down the bed curtain.

“Mr. Lu, are you home?” one of the men on the courtyard called out. Fan Yao pointed to his own mouth, reminding Lu Zhangke that he was a mute, telling him to answer.

“What is it?” Lu Zhangke said in loud voice.

“One of the concubines from the palace is kidnapped,” that man replied, “We trace the bandit’s footprints and looks like he came to Wan An Temple.”

Lu Zhangke shot an angry look toward Fan Yao; his meaning was clear: ‘If you are not intentionally framing me, with your kind of skill, how could you leave a trail behind?’

Fan Yao grinned widely and smiled. He made some hand signals, telling him to send these men away; while in his heart he thought, “Wei Fuwang truly went all the way; he directed the track from the palace to this place.”

Lu Zhangke coldly laughed and said, “You don’t scatter and look around, but making disturbance here. What do you want?” Because of his high level of martial art skill, everybody was scared of him. That man answered indistinctly and did not dare to say anything else. He ordered his men to disperse and search the temple.

Lu Zhangke knew that with people all around the Wan An Temple searching for Concubine Han, to actually take Concubine Han out of the temple and bring her someplace else would not be easy even though they would not dare to search his room. He frowned and stared angrily at Ku Toutuo.

Suddenly Fan Yao got an idea, in a low voice he said, “Lu Xiong, there is a place within the Wan An Temple which can be used as a good hiding place for your beloved. We’ll wait for half a day then we’ll take her out; I don’t think that will be too late.”

Lu Zhangke angrily replied, “The safest place is in your own room.”

Fan Yao smiled and said, “With this kind of beautiful woman hiding in my room, the Old Toutuo’s heart might be moved. Are you sure Lu Xiong won’t be jealous?”

“Then what kind of place were you talking about?” Lu Zhangke asked.

Fan Yao pointed his finger toward the peak of the pagoda outside the window while showing a faint smile.

Lu Zhangke was smart; he understood immediately. Raising his thumb he praised, “Good idea!”

The pagoda was used as a prison for the martial art masters of the six major sects; it was under Lu Zhangke’s first disciple Wuwang Apu’s custody. Other people or other places could be under suspicion, but nobody would suspect the Prince’s concubine was hidden in the most heavily guarded place of all: the prison.

“Right now there is nobody on the courtyard,” Fan Yao said, “We must not tarry. Let’s move.” Raising the four corner of the blanket he wrapped Concubine Han inside, making it looked like a big bundle. With his right hand he lifted it up and gave it to Lu Zhangke.

Lu Zhangke, however, thought that he was being swindled; he thought that as soon as he carried Concubine Han on his shoulder, Ku Toutuo would make a racket announcing it to everybody, then Lu Zhangke would be caught red-handed with the kidnapped person in his hand, at that time he would not be able to say anything. Having this thought his expression changed and he did not hold out his hand to receive the bundle.

Fan Yao understood his thought, he said, “Mustn’t help someone half way. Sending off Buddha must send him off to Heaven. What harm is it in letting Ku Toutuo protecting you again? Who told me to ask a favor from you?” While saying that he carried the bundle on his back, pushed the door to go out and in a low voice said, “You walk ahead. If anybody stops us to inquire, just kill them.”

Walking sideways Lu Zhangke went out the door; he still did not want to let Ku Toutuo walking behind him for fear of any sneak attack. Fan Yao reached back to close the door, then with Concubine Han on his back he walked toward the pagoda.

It was already late eleventh hour (between 7 – 9 pm); other than the pagoda guards, there was nobody else walking around the Temple. As the guards saw Lu Zhangke and Fan Yao they bowed to salute and respectfully moved aside to let them pass. As they arrived in front of the pagoda, someone had already informed Wuwang Apu, so that he was waiting on the door. “Shifu,” he said, “I wish you, Senior, well. Are you going to take a walk in the pagoda?”

Lu Zhangke nodded his head; along with Fan Yao he was about to step into the pagoda when suddenly from the moon gate on the east side of the pagoda someone stepped out, it was none other than Zhao Min. Because he was guilty, Lu Zhangke was really shocked. He thought Zhao Min was personally leading her warriors to arrest him. He had no alternative but summon his courage and he stepped forward to pay his respect along with Ku Toutuo and Wuwang Apu.

The previous night Zhang Wuji made such a disturbance and Zhao Min did not know only three people from the Ming Cult came over. She feared they were dispatching a large scale raid; therefore, she personally came to the pagoda on an inspection tour. Seeing Fan Yao, she smiled slightly and said, “Ku Dashi, I was looking for you.” Fan Yao nodded, maintaining his composure. Zhao Min continued, “I want you to accompany me going to a certain place.”

Fan Yao was inwardly groaning, “With great difficulty I lured Lu Zhangke into the pagoda; all I have to do is snatching the antidote and then this great endeavor will be brought into its successful completion. Who would have thought that this little girl pick this exact same time to look for me?” Frantically he tried to find an excuse, but could not come up with any good explanation; besides, he was a mute, so he was not supposed to say anything. Suddenly he had an idea, “I’ll let Lu Zhangke think of something.” Immediately he pointed toward the bundle on his back and shoved it toward Lu Zhangke. Lu Zhangke was taken aback; he inwardly scolded Ku Toutuo as being very malicious.

“Mister Lu,” Zhao Min asked, “What is inside Ku Dashi’s bundle?”

“Uh … uh … It’s Ku Dashi’s bedding,” Lu Zhangke stammered.

“Bedding?” Zhao Min was surprised, “Why is Ku Dashi bringing his bedding along?” she asked. She chuckled and said, “Ku Dashi thinks I am too dumb that he is not willing to take me as his disciple; and now he has to carry his own bedding?”

Fan Yao shook his head; his right hand moved around as if he was making some hand signals, while in his heart he was thinking, “Let Lu Zhangke fabricates all kind of lies. I am a mute, I might as well take advantage of it.”

Zhao Min could not understand his hand signals, so she turned her gaze toward Lu Zhangke, waiting for him to explain. Lu Zhangke’s quick mind got a sudden inspiration, he said, “It’s like this: last night some sorcerers [Translator’s note: the literal translation is ‘devil head’] from the Devil Cult came and made some disturbance. Subordinate is afraid they might not give up easily. This … this … this is not confirmed yet, but they might come to the pagoda to rescue these people. For this reason Subordinate two martial brothers, along with Ku Dashi, decided to personally guard the pagoda so Junzhu’s major plan will not be disturbed. This bedding is Ku Dashi’s cotton quilt.”

Zhao Min was very pleased; she smiled and said, “Actually I was going to ask Mr. Lu and Mr. He to personally guard the prisoners, but I was afraid I might be condescending toward people of your position, so I was uncomfortable in asking you. Now that the three of you are concerned about me, I couldn’t ask any better. With Mr. Lu and Mr. He guarding in here, I am sure those ‘devil head’ won’t be able to do anything; so I don’t need to go up the pagoda to take a look. Ku Dashi, please come with me.” While saying that she held out her hand to pull Fan Yao’s hand.

Fan Yao had no choice; he thought that even if he exposed Lu Zhangke right now, first, it would not do him any good, second, Concubine Han was obviously on his own back. He might not necessarily able to convince Zhao Min. Hence he handed over the big bundle to Lu Zhangke.

Lu Zhangke held out his hands to receive the bundle and said, “Ku Dashi, I will be waiting for you on this pagoda.”

“Shifu,” Wuwang Apu said, “Let disciple carry the bedding.”

“No need,” Lu Zhangke laughed, “This is Ku Dashi’s belonging, I want to win his heart, so I must carry this bedding myself.”

Fan Yao grinned widely, he stretched out his hand to slap the bundle, right on Concubine Han’s buttocks. Luckily her mute acupoint was sealed; otherwise she would cry out in shock. But Lu Zhangke was scared out of his wits; his countenance paled. Without delay he bowed toward Zhao Min and carrying Concubine Han on his back he hurriedly entered the pagoda. His mind had already cooked up a plan; as soon as he entered the pagoda, he would wrap a cotton quilt inside the blanket. If Ku Toutuo told Zhao Min about him, he would deny any knowledge of Concubine Han.